Subtle Year

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Chapter 6: The End is Nigh

Abalone had been pacing for over an hour now, Ludwhig was concerned he was going to pace a hole in the ground.

“You know that won’t do us any good,” he sighed eventually. “We won’t be able to afford a new carpet until the next financial year.”

“I imagine we’d be able to afford a bit of carpet,” Abalone stopped pacing for a moment and paused. “Oh, you were making a joke.”

“Rare as it is.”

“You always seem to crack jokes at times like this,” he remarked. “It’s good. Making the best out of a bad situation.”

“I thought you trusted Blackguard and his… girl.”

“I do; however, you tend to realise when your time is up. I suspect I don’t have much longer on this earth.”

“I don’t feel that way,” Ludwhig crossed his arms.

“That’s good, that means you have time left. I’d expect as much, you haven’t even reached one-hundred yet.”

“As always, I’m grateful for the reminder, Your Grandness,” he muttered. “If you believe your death is going to come imminently at the hands of Lorian Serpent, why do you stay?”

Abalone shook his head with a slight smile. He could remember thinking that way a few centuries prior. Perhaps calling a man of seventy-eight youthful was borderline paradoxical but Abalone had been around since the early fourteen-hundreds, there weren’t many his age anymore. His High Vice didn’t have the same life experience, he wasn’t quite as in tune as he was.

“Because you can’t intervene with fate. If my death is destined to be at the hands of Serpent, then so be it. I’m not afraid, I’ve lived a good life.”

“You are a position of authority, Your Grandness. I admire that you aren’t afraid of death but there is more than that to think about. You are our countries leader, with you gone, who could possibly lead?” Ludwhig frowned. “It’ll lead to an election and then what if-”

“You will be elected and the country will be in good hands,” he smiled as he shook his head. “You have nothing to worry about. If I had the time, I would name you as my successor and avoid the whole issue.”

“I think there would be some dispute if you were to do so.”

“I think people would get over it. There’s no reason why you couldn’t lead. You knew that when you stood half a century ago. What’s changed?”

“I’m not you. I am no replacement and I would never want to be.”

“Well, I should hope not. It’d be useless to have a Grand High Sorcerer and High Vice who were exactly the same. You’re a born leader, you know? You just need to learn to be a little more tolerant.”

“This isn’t because of that girl, is it?” he rolled his eyes. “She’s a mortal. And a child no less! She doesn’t belong here.”

“She won’t always be mortal and she won’t always be a child, as you call her. When you were her age, you were just like her.”

“I never called anybody ‘dude’.”

“I remember when we met. I asked you a few questions, and what did you say to me?”

“Won’t you ever let this go?” Ludwhig groaned, his head in his hands.

“You said, ‘Are you writing a book, bug?’, didn’t you?” he raised an eyebrow.

“The fifties were a different time,” he sighed.

“Perhaps she’ll say something similar to that in fifty years’ time.”

“Not to me she won’t,” he grumbled. “Really, Abalone, I don’t understand why you don’t just leave. If you think Blackguard can stop him then you may as well-”

“I will not be leaving the Freedom House. If Serpent wants me, then this is where he’ll find me. There are too many innocents here for me to even consider leaving.”

“Your nobility will be the death of you,” he muttered.

“I count on it.”


It was dark and wet in the channel beneath the mansion. I had to watch my step, in case I stood on some moss and was sent flying. I wasn’t sure where Serpent went. The only noise that filled the cave was the dripping of water and our footsteps. I was scared, I’d been scared for the last few days, but now my heart was beating loudly from pure fear and I was worried that Flash could hear it too. I think Flash believed I was braver than I was. I wanted to be the person he seemed to think I was.

“Onyx,” he turned to me. “If you see anyone that isn’t me, hide.”

“What do you mean?” I eyed him suspiciously.

“The tunnel forks and it’s a waste of time if we both go down one and then the other,” he looked reluctant to say it. “I’ll go down the right and you’ll go down the left, if you find them, let me know where you are, okay?”

I looked down the dark tunnel to my left, there could be anything down there, absolutely anything. I didn’t like it in the slightest but I nodded. I had to be brave. He turned to me and put his hands on my shoulders.

“Be very careful down there,” he looked serious. “I don’t know what’s down here.”

“I know.”

“Don’t get hurt.”

“Believe me, I’ll try.”

Flash went down the right passage, taking the light with him. He controlled fire so it was okay for him, but what about me? The inky darkness settled around me and I groaned. I did not think about a torch. Remembering my phone, I pulled it out and turned on the torch. I love technology. However, I couldn’t remember the last time I’d actually charged the thing. It was running low. This wasn’t going to end well.

I started walking down the left passage and I was so scared I checked every corner. So far so good, I even began to relax slightly which was probably an error. Sometimes bits of rock crumbled around me and I had to jump out of the way. It’s times like this that makes a gal remember that she really needs magic. Then suddenly my phone beeped. I looked at it and gasped. It was on a grand total of 1%. The torch started to dim and I shook the phone trying to keep it working, it didn’t work. The torch finally packed in and I groaned loudly.

“Please work,” I begged. “Come on!”

I don’t know what I was expecting would happen. But, of course, nothing did happen. I wonder if Rio could charge a phone. That’d be nice. Then a light bounced across the cave, someone was coming. Remembering what Flash said, I dove into the shadows and prayed that I’d remain hidden. Serpent strolled down the passageway with two pale skinned, very stern looking men behind him. These people were once my age, imagine that class… I shuddered at the thought. If this was the direction Serpent had gone in, where had he been when Flash and I had come down here? Yeah, probably not the best thing to be thinking right now.

Serpent walked straight past my hiding spot, obviously distracted, but the two men stopped. They sniffed the air and turned around. They looked right at me! Their eyes were blood red with large soulless black pupils. Why did I get the feeling that these things were vampires? I held my breath, as if that’d help… I really am an idiot at times.

“What are you two dawdling for?” Serpent snarled. “Hurry up!”

I never thought I’d say this but, thank god for Lorian Serpent. They let out a low growl in unison and followed their master. No defiance, Serpent’s kind of thing. I let out a huge sigh of relief as soon as they were all out of earshot, then took a cautious step out of the shadows. My boot slid on the slippery surface and I fell to the floor in a painful heap.

“Ow,” I muttered.

I put my hands on the wall and pulled myself up. Placing my feet firmly on the floor I shook my hair out of the laces of my top. I pulled my hand away and felt something slice across my palm. I groaned and held my hand to my chest. My other hand was now feeling warm and wet with blood. I’d gotten blood all over my chest thanks to the cleavage of my top. I looked around for what I’d cut my hand on and spotted a sharp white thing sticking out of the wall. I rolled my eyes and prepared to move on, but then the white thing moved. I gasped as a huge monster stood up. It bared its giant teeth at me and growled.

Well, I’m dead.

At least I would be when it caught me, but for now I was going to run. I didn’t want to run into Serpent and his lackeys, although the monster would probably eat them for me. So. instead of following them, I darted down another passage. The huge monster roared and I dove behind a rock before it caught sight of me. The monster bounded down the passage but then stopped and sniffed the air. Oh, no… my blood. I made a last-ditch attempt to run away again, but the monster swung its front leg and batted me into the wall like a rag doll. I could feel three claw marks beginning to bleed through my top and it was pretty much destroyed. The monster towered over me and roared again, it’s mouth settling into an intense underbite. It leaned down to gobble me down in one bite, but then I realised I had Flash’s gun in my pocket. I pulled it out just it opened its mouth. I raised the gun, almost closing my eyes, but I was too scared to. The trigger squeezed under my finger and the gun recoiled, nearly hitting me in the face. I’d never shot a gun before and had no idea what to do. Thankfully, the shot went right through the monster’s head and it slumped to the floor. I breathed a sigh of relief and squirmed back around the monster. The cuts along my stomach were intensely painful but I couldn’t exactly wallow in the pain right now.

I headed back down the passage, putting the gun back in my pocket despite my shaking hands. Ahead of me was a chamber of sorts. I crouched down on the floor, making sure there weren’t any evil monsters hanging about, and looked inside. Serpent was stood in front of a stone shelf, facing me, with his two lackeys flanking him. On the table was a crystal box with a large lock on it, even from all the way over here I could see the lock was in the shape of a cross, and what was in Serpent’s hand? My necklace of course, I really want that back. He inserted the charm into the lock on the box and twisted it. His hands shook as he gently lifted the lid, what was in there? I pulled my phone out of my pocket but annoyingly it had shut down, my luck sucks…

“Here it is,” Serpent breathed and lifted out a metal glove. “I finally have it.”

Callum died for a glove? That is ridiculous! Serpent pulled off the leather glove on his right hand and I felt my eyebrows crease. There were a series of swirling scars up his hands and his fingers. They were wide and looked fresh but yet he’d obviously had them for a long time. They weren’t bleeding and I could see the blood pulsing through the scars. He slipped the metal glove on his hand and he smiled. Something in the air crackled and I gasped at the painful shock.

“What was that?” Serpent looked around.

The two men let out a low growl and looked to my hiding spot. Yeah, of course, the bloodsuckers spotted me in an instant. A small smile teased its way across Serpent’s face as he lay eyes on me. Oh hell…

“Little Miss Brooks,” he chuckled. “You clever little fox, no wonder I considered keeping you. I’d have had plenty of fun with you, but you’ll have to forgive me if I’d rather entertain myself right now. You’ll be a pleasing way for me to test my new powers.”

He flexed his hand and I felt a rushing pain through my veins, almost like my blood had been replaced with burning hot fire. I couldn’t stop my scream from pain, despite the fact that I desperately wanted to spare him that satisfaction. Still, it’s the only damn satisfaction he’ll be getting from me. I didn’t like the comments he was making about ‘keeping me’.

“Dinner time, boys,” he was clearly amused.

The two men grinned and I saw their huge fangs. This is what I get for liking The Lost Boys. I took a deep breath to steady myself as I stood straighter and then I burst into a run, hoping I might get some sort of a head start.

“I love it when they run,” Serpent sighed wistfully.

The pain was ten times worse than it was last time. I came back out to the fork and I skidded to a stop. Which way should I go? I could either try to find Flash by going down the right passage and or I could go up to the stables and try to hide from the vamps. I heard the echo of footsteps behind me so I made my decision.

I ran back up the slippery tunnel and into the horse stall. I cursed myself for wearing boots with no grip and bloody heels, then hurried back to the mansion. The dark grey clouds were pouring down a deluge of rain now and that stung the wounds I’d attained in my side battle with that monster. I opened the huge oak doors and slammed them shut behind me. There was a snarling outside as I fumbled with shaking fingers for my key. I heard the lock click just as the vampires crashed into the doors. The force sent me backwards slightly but the creatures didn’t break through. I didn’t have much time, they’d get in soon.

I took a second to catch my breath then I raced up the stairs, two at a time. I got to Callum’s study and I dove in there, somehow this room was the safest in the entire mansion for me. I panted heavily as my eyes darted around the room looking for a place to hide. The doors cracked and splintered into pieces below me and the sound of footsteps sprinted up the stairs. I gasped and leapt under the desk in sheer, childish panic. The cuts on my stomach were hurting, the pain was even more intense and I had the funny feeling that the vampires were going to hurt me. The door creaked eerily open and I heard two people walk into the room. I gulped and held my breath. I’d read vampire books before, but who knows what’s true and what isn’t? You never know, they might sparkle like fairies. If they did, I wouldn’t be quite so terrified. The creatures growled to one another and I saw their feet approaching my hiding place. How did they know where I was? Oh right, I was bleeding a hell of a lot. That was the one thing every story was in agreement with. Vampires loved blood. Their hands clasped onto the desk and they moved to rip it off the floor. I braced myself for a very gristly end, realising that I could do nothing but hope that something miraculous would happen.

But then, suddenly, the room glowed orange and the vampires made a noise that was something similar to a scream. I looked away for a second as the sights became much grislier. When I looked back the vampires had melted into two piles of disgusting red goo. The sight wasn’t so terrible, it was mainly the smell. The substance started to run under the desk and I clambered out from underneath before it reached me. The goo began to drip through the carpet and I pulled a face. I looked around the room as I tried to find the source of the orange glow, maybe it had been Flash; it must have been fire.

“Flash?” I called. “Are you there?”

There was no answer, so it couldn’t have been Flash. I was the only person in the entire mansion. It took me another few moments to narrow it down to what must have happened… it had to have been me.

I stared at my hands for a second and gulped down a lump of fear in my throat. I crept down the stairs when I was midway down I stopped and looked around. No-one was there so I carried on. My boots slipped on the carpet and I was sent flying.

“That is not fair,” I groaned.

I lay on the floor for a moment, heaving a sigh. I was officially exhausted and I really did not like Serpent.

“Oh yeah, it’s alright for him, isn’t it?” I grumbled. “Mr, ’I love it when they run’.”

I was stunned to silence when my mocking imitation of Serpent came out in exactly his voice. I cleared my throat, speaking in my normal voice again as I staggered onto my feet. What was that about? My eyes landed on the fireplace nearby for now apparent reason and I leapt back in shock as flames shot out at me.

“Oh, my god,” I couldn’t think of anything else to say.

Oh, hell, oh, hell, oh, hell. I needed to find Flash… I was panicking.

I rushed across the entrance hall and out the broken door, that poor door had been through a fair deal since Callum’s death. Serpent’s car was gone, he clearly didn’t care at all for his little pets. Vampires must be ten a penny or something.

I could just make out Flash stood by stables, despite the pouring rain. Oh, thank god. I ran up to him and he heaved a sigh of relief, wrapping his arms tightly around me. I hugged him back and hid my face for a few moments, so glad to be with the responsible adult again. Wow, Flash was the responsible adult. God help us all.

“Onyx, you’re bleeding really badly,” he gently pushed me away, looking at my torn shirt. “What happened to you?”

“I got a little bit attacked by a monster,” I admitted, looking up at him. “I had to shoot it in the head.”

“I told you that gun would come in handy,” he kissed the top of my head gently. “Come on, are you alright? We should get to the Freedom House and quickly.”

“I’m okay, let’s go.”

We were soon speeding back down to the Freedom House, Flash thankfully very careful with his driving and I told him about what I assumed was my magic. He was certainly happy to hear about it.

“This is good,” he grinned despite the situation. “This is just what you needed.”

“I thought so myself,” I agreed.

“You know, controlling fire is very handy in our line of work but imitation is a different one, it’s rare.”

“Useful too. If being a detective doesn’t work out I could make millions in the comedy business. My dad would be so proud.”

“Yeah, somehow I can picture that.”

“So, what’s that glove thing that Serpent had?” I looked at him.

“It’s called The Claimer,” he explained. “It takes another person’s power when you kill them while using it and the wearer can use said power as long as the killer is wearing it. Machiavellian used it during the war. It’s genuinely unknown where it originated before that. People believe that The Claimer is the only part of a whole suit of armour that remains. It should have been destroyed a long time ago but nobody knew where to find it.”

“Until Callum did.”

“Until Callum did,” he nodded. “Calypso mentioned Serpent was asking about the Claimer. I should have guessed it was connected. I just never thought Callum might have it.”

“Yeah, you mentioned that Callum collected magical militaria. I didn’t think that’d be what he died for.”

“Magical militaria, I like that.”

“It’s alliterative.”

“I like alliteration,” he mused before the light tone to his voice suddenly vanished. “Did Serpent hurt you?”

“No,” I shook my head. “He did it last time, so I can… live with it.”

“That doesn’t brim me with confidence, Onyx,” he shook his head. “Not at all… that man’s a monster.”

“I think I’d prefer him attempting to kill me, he seems to have some affinity to me.”

“Something has changed about him lately. I haven’t heard much of him since the war ended. He seemed to have become quite recluse.”

“Rio mentioned he’d stopped pumping money into his castle recently,” I remarked.

“Yeah, that’s strange. Serpent is, or was, a very proud man. He liked to look good and live lavishly.”

“It’s a decent suit.”

“It’s been the same one every time he’s shown up.”

“It has?” I raised an eyebrow.

“He used to have a new suit for every day of the week. Sometimes two. It’s a small detail but it was a big part of his entire being. He was a cruel master of torture, which he undeniably still is but he was also, arguably, charming. If he’d wanted you to like him, you would have.”

“Yippee,” I muttered. “So, what do you think this change in behaviour means?”

“I dread to suggest that, perhaps, he’s finally, genuinely snapped. Machiavellian sold such a tale that when he lost, a lot of his disillusioned troops found themselves still attempting frenzied takeovers. Serpent must have known how formidable Machiavellian was with the Claimer so he’s decided to do some lone wolf attack on the Freedom House.”

“Ah, lovely to know Callum died for a reason,” I folded my arms.

“I’m afraid that’s sometimes the way with death. We want death to be a meaningful thing but sometimes it just isn’t.”

“Yeah, I’m starting to learn that.”

We pulled up outside the Freedom House and I followed Flash out of the car. He went first, opening the door to reveal it was pitch black inside. Flash lit a ball of fire in his hands and I followed suit as he gestured for me to follow him. I was proud of myself for being able to do something that Flash could do.

As we ventured inside I heard a regular dripping noise. With every drop my shoulders tensed up automatically. It was starting to get disconcerting.

“Flash,” I whispered. “What’s that noise?”

“Leaky pipe?” he suggested.

“The most important building in the country has a leaky pipe? That’s so reassuring.”

“I broke a tap once. Vice Ludwhig got very angry.”

“That doesn’t shock me.”

I couldn’t ignore that damn noise. I stopped and looked around but I couldn’t see the source. Flash didn’t seem as bother by it as I was, but he clearly wasn’t comfortable either. I don’t think the flames flickering against all surfaces was at all helpful. He walked ahead while I looked around for any sign of life. There wasn’t anybody at all.

“Onyx,” Flash called. “You’d better get over here.”

I joined him in the entrance of the Oval Room and I cried out in shock and disgust. All around us were the slaughtered remains of god knows how many Freedom House agents. I felt myself heave at the sight but, luckily, I guess, I was getting used of the smell of blood thanks to all the injuries I’d accumulated recently. I unfortunately recognised the corpses of the Abalone and two of his vices. Vice St Alde and Vice Waltham were dead but I wasn’t sure where Vice Ludwhig was. There were more dead strewn everywhere but I couldn’t recognise them, I hadn’t exactly met many people that it could be.

“Call Isla,” Flash glanced back at me, holding out his phone to me. “Check who’s alive.”

I nodded obediently as I took it and dialled her number, waiting for an anxious few rings before there was an answer.

“Isla?” I spoke hopefully.

“Onyx,” Maven sighed with relief. “Thank god.”

“Where’s Isla?” I frowned.

“She’s hurt,” he admitted, worry in his voice. “It’s pretty bad. She tried to defend Abalone and Serpent nearly tore her limb from limb to get to him. The Professor thinks she’ll survive, but he’s not sure when she’ll wake up or if she even will.”

“Oh, my god…”

“Where are you?”

“We’re at the Freedom House. Flash and I.”

“Get out of there now,” he instructed in a firm tone. “Serpent just sauntered on in there and slaughtered everyone in his path. Think about what he did to Isla, what he did to Abalone. He’ll kill the pair of you in an instant.”

“We have a plan… I think,” I wasn’t all that sure. “How many made it out? There’s nobody alive in here.”

“Err… the Professor, Isla, Rio and a few other people, we’re at Calypso’s. We got a few back before the teleporter was killed. Maybe around fifty out of god knows how many who were actually in there,” he paused before continuing. “How is it there?”

“Hell on earth,” I replied in a shaky tone. “I’ve never seen anything like it. Look, I should go. I’ll call you back in a bit.”

“Keep me updated, alright?”

“I will as soon as I can,” I promised.

I hung up, tucking the phone in my pocket along with my dead one but before I could tell Flash, there was suddenly shouting. Vice Ludwhig came flying into the room and he hit the wall in the hallway behind us, unconscious on impact.

“Oh,” Flash muttered drily. “There he is.”

Serpent appeared in the doorway a few moments later, the metal glove on his hand glittering in the glow of fire.

“Tsk, I was hoping my vampires would have dealt with you,” he muttered as he spotted me. “But it doesn’t matter, I’ve killed Abalone and there’s nothing more you can do. I’ve won, that’s the end of it.”

“Onyx, get Ludwhig out of here while I deal with this,” Flash instructed me.

“But-”

“Just do it,” he snapped.

I couldn’t think of any way I could change his mind so I nodded and rushed off to find Ludwhig. I desperately wanted to just leave him there but, I did want to get away from the disgusting bodies and Serpent’s calculated glare.

Ludwhig was bleeding badly and despite my dislike of him, I felt genuinely sorry for him. He was rude but he didn’t deserve to die. I crouched in front of him, putting my hand on his shoulder and he stirred slightly in response.

“Hey, Ludwhig,” I gently shook his shoulder. “Come on, let’s not die.”

His eyes slowly opened and they seemed unfocused but when they landed on me, he looked vaguely irritated.

“Where’s Serpent?” he groaned in pain.

“Flash is dealing with him,” I shook my head. “You need to get out of here before he kills you too, he’s already done enough of a number on you.”

“Serpent couldn’t touch me,” he laughed bitterly, his head lulling slightly. “My power’s too strong for him.”

“You know full well that Serpent has the same power as you,” I shot back. “And he’s got other people’s powers too, are you sure you want to go up against him?”

He groaned and tried to move, entirely rejecting any help I tried to offer. That was until he couldn’t support his weight any further and he slumped back to the floor, clearly doing more harm than good.

“I don’t like you,” he felt the need to inform me as if I didn’t already know. “Help me out of here.”

I slowly helped him up onto his feet, taking genuine care to avoid his major injuries and I let him rest his weight on me. He stumbled slightly but he didn’t let me help him any further, his stubborn pride clearly having a part to play. Good thing I’m so darn patient.

I rested him against the Mercedes as we got outside and he groaned in pain, singing in and out of consciousness. He was bleeding a lot. He needed medical attention, and quickly. The Professor would be able to help him, I’m sure. I called Maven’s number this time and he sounded relieved when he answered.

“Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” I promised him. “But is there any chance that you can get outside the Freedom House? Ludwhig’s bleeding pretty badly and he needs the Professor’s help. He’s the only survivor I’ve seen in the entire Freedom House and he’s not going to last long at this rate.”

“Seriously, he’s the only one left alive? He’s an arrogant jobsworth. Look at the way he’s acted towards you, do you genuinely want me to come and rescue him?”

“What gives any of us the right to choose who lives and who dies? He’s in a bad way, you need to get over here and help him.”

“Fine, I’ll be there in a bit.”

“Good, he’s by the Mercedes,” I glanced back to the door of the Freedom House. “I have to go and help Flash.”

“Wait, Onyx,” he exclaimed. “You don’t have any magic, it’s not safe in there. Wait by the Mercedes and I’ll take you to Calypso’s. Flash knows what he’s doing.”

“Flash will get himself killed in there,” I strayed to the doorway. “Look, Maven, trust me. I’ll be alright. Just, get Ludwhig. Please.”

“Alright,” he sighed. “Alright, I’ll be there soon.”

I quickly glanced at Ludwhig, who seemed to have fallen unconscious again, before I rushed back into the Freedom House.

I lit the fire in my hand so I could see where I was going. It was a lucky thing really because I nearly crashed into a door. I don’t like the idea of what’s on the over side. Maybe Maven was right and I should turn back. But how could I wait for him while Flash and Serpent were in there? I put my hand on the door it clicked open, the sound resonating through the silent room. I gulped before I entered.

My footsteps echoed as I walked into the centre of the room, looking around and making sure to take in every corner. Flash and Serpent were nowhere to be seen. There were five doors that ran through the Freedom House; so, it was a one in five chance. I don’t think I like what would be on the other side but I still walked towards the centre door. I cautiously twisted it open and…

A cold hand grabbed my throat and squeezed tightly, not giving me a moment to recoil away. I gasped in a stray breath of shock and I tried to kick the person, desperate for some room. Serpent just grunted and glared at me with those sharp green eyes. Where had Flash gone? Serpent shoved me against the wall with determination etched on his face. Oh Christ, he’s going to kill me this time. There’s no way to talk myself out of this. Using all my strength, I scrambled my feet and booted him in the chest. He staggered backwards and I fell to the floor, gasping for breath. My lungs burned and I couldn’t seem to get the air in. I didn’t dare glance away from Serpent, he’d attack me the first chance he gets.

“Little brat,” he sneered. “You’ll regret the day you crossed me.”

He lunged at me again but this time I was ready for him. I rolled out of the way and jumped onto my feet but he immediately swept my legs out from under me. He kicked me in my stomach and I moaned in pain. Right where I was already in intense pain. Words cannot describe how evil this man is. He attacked me and I was forced against the wall again. I hit my head hard and I could already feel my hair starting to mat with blood. I groaned and then kicked Serpent off me, my movements becoming weaker and more sluggish. The shining glove hit me in the ribs as Serpent let all his strength out at me and I was left breathless again. Then, suddenly, Serpent was pulled away from me and he was thrown into the wall.

“Don’t you dare touch her,” Flash snarled.

“Ah, I see,” he chuckled wryly. “Young Onyx reminds you of your daughter… the one I killed.”

It looked like Flash was going to tear Serpent to shreds for that comment. That was new information. Flash had a daughter?

“Don’t ever speak about her,” Flash spoke in a low voice.

“I’m allowed to speak about the people I killed. That’s my reward,” Serpent mocked, clearly enjoying every moment of his gloating. “Shall I mention your dear wife?”

Flash glared at him with pure hatred and that was when Serpent took the chance to attack him. The pair of them fought savagely but Serpent was quickly beating Flash senseless, that glove just making him even stronger. I couldn’t just let Serpent hurt Flash. I remembered what Flash had done to Grey Withers when we met. He’d set him on fire, I must be able to do something similar even if I don’t have much control over my powers just yet. I summoned a flame and flicked it towards Serpent, my aim thankfully being alright on this occasion. He broke away from Flash, putting out the fire in a slick movement before glancing around for the source of the fire. He looked at me and flexed his hand, bloodlust prominent behind those green eyes. Damn…

Flash got up onto his feet and staggered slightly; he wiped the blood from his face, then lunged at Serpent again. This time he certainly had the upper hand. Flash ducked from one of his punches and threw one in of his own. I soon realised that he was trying to get the glove off Serpent’s hand but it refused to budge. I desperately wanted to help but I didn’t know how. Flash was taking charge of the fight and I could only be a side act, if that.

The glove was stuck to Serpent’s hand and Flash soon realised that. The two of them separated for a few seconds, both panting for breath. Then I noticed that Flash was almost as strong as Serpent even with The Claimer. They obviously wanted to defeat each other in close combat. This was an old battle, neither of them would get the satisfaction if they defeated each other with magic. That was stupid if you ask me but it could be to our benefit. Maybe if Flash could get just one more advantage then he could beat Serpent. But how could he get that? I kept watching them and I finally got my breath back. Serpent hit Flash in the face with the glove and he was sent flying.

And then I realised what that advantage could be. Flash’s gun. Let’s face it, a well-placed bullet wound would be game over for even Lorian Serpent. I reached to my pocket and groaned irritably. Where did it go? It must have come out of my pocket when Serpent was beating the living hell out of me. I scanned the area around me but I didn’t see it. Flash and Serpent started brawling again while I scurried away to find the gun. Where the hell is it?

Flash hurled fire at Serpent and in the glow of the flames, I saw a glint of silver. Unfortunately for me, it was wedged in a heap of dead bodies. I felt bile crawl up my throat but as I glanced at Flash I swallowed it back down. I need to do something to help him, he’s saved my life more than once and I want to return the favour. There was still warmth emanating from the recently deceased corpses and I shuddered compulsively. I’d never seen a dead body before this night. It was perfectly natural for me to be just a tad freaked out right now. I plucked the gun from what I was pretending was merely a pile of blood-soaked rags that didn’t help in the slightest.

“Flash, catch!” I called.

I threw the gun across the room to him and he caught it with ease, keeping Serpent at bay for the moment it took to grab it. He turned to Serpent who promptly took a step backwards, not daring to raise his hands in surrender or defeat.

“Looks like you finally got your revenge, Blackguard,” he still looked confident. “Congratulations. It’s a shame, isn’t it? Killing me won’t bring anyone back. It’ll just make you and I even more similar.”

I looked away as Flash squeezed the trigger without another word. I didn’t like Serpent, not in the slightest, but I didn’t want to see anybody get shot in the head. Not even him. I heard the thud of a limp body on the floor. I risked a glance and I saw Serpent’s lifeless body lying on the floor with a slow trickle of blood running from the wound on his head. I felt the blood drain from my face and my stomach turned to sickly ice so I looked up to Flash instead.

“How are you feeling?” he spoke in a calm voice.

“What do you mean?” I asked, starting to feel woozy. “I feel fine…”

The last thing I saw was Flash rushing to catch me as my legs gave way beneath me and my vision went black around me.


I woke up feeling ill, I didn’t like it. My head was light and my stomach was massively unsettled. I was lying in a hospital bed looking up at a pale blue ceiling. Why did that colour blue make me feel ill? The three cuts on my stomach were wrapped up and my throat was sore from when Serpent had throttled me. I propped myself up onto my elbows and looked around. I was in the Freedom House infirmary but it looked clean and normal. It looked as if what had happened with Serpent had never taken place.

Where was Flash?

I looked around, hoping he was around somewhere and, while I didn’t see him, I did spot the Professor.

“Professor,” I had to clear my throat to stop my dry throat from croaking. “What happened?”

“Ah, good you’re awake,” he came over.

“How long have I been out for?” I frowned.

“About four days,” he replied. “How are you feeling?”

“A little delicate but mostly alright.”

“Does this hurt?” he prodded my arm and I groaned.

“Yes!”

“Oh, good. You’ll be fine.”

“Goody,” I grumbled, rubbing my arm. “What actually happened?”

“I think Flash should be the one to explain, but first” he cleared his throat before continuing. “Grand High Sorcerer Ludwhig wants to speak to you.”

“Grand High Sorcerer?” I raised my eyebrow.

“He’s the active regent something or another for the next year before an official election can be held to select the new Grand High Sorcerer,” he explained then began to wonder of, but he turned around. “As you can tell we’re all thrilled.”

As he left, I groaned in pain and moved to stand up. The floor was cold under my bare feet. Who took my shoes? I sat back down as I spotted my boots on the floor and leaned down to get then. It was intensely painful putting pressure on my stomach. The slashes from that monster must have been deep. Plus, Serpent kicked me right in the wound. I groaned again, but still picked them up. I slipped them onto my feet, lacing them up despite my weak arms and stood up.

That was when I saw her. Poor Isla. I rushed to her bed side and gasped at the healing scratches on her face and arms. They were still deep, hardly starting to heal and I knew that the Professor was particularly gifted at superficial injuries. They must have been bad. It was then I realised that I wasn’t the only one there. Rio was fast asleep in a chair beside her bed. His head rested on the bed, his hand close to hers. Maybe he wasn’t as inhuman as I had thought. His jacket was hanging over the back of his chair and I could see the scar that Isla had mentioned running down his arm. The pair of them had obviously hurt each other in the past but Rio was still sitting by her side, waiting for her to wake up. I spotted a new scar under his eye, he was probably lucky not to lose his eye. He must have tried to take on Serpent too. That must have been interesting. Serpent’s ex right-hand man going against him. Although, I doubt Serpent had cared all the much.

“Don’t wake him,” the Professor told me quietly.

I jumped and turned around, looking behind me. I hadn’t realised he was still there. How can somebody be so quiet? Was he a trained ninja or something? That… that actually wouldn’t surprise me.

“He’s the one who saved her,” he explained in a low whisper, careful not to disturb Rio. “He hasn’t left her side in days, he’s only asleep now because he’s exhausted and I slipped something in his tea.”

“Professor!” I was surprised.

“It was in my medical opinion that he needed the rest,” he shrugged. “He knows it’s very unlikely that she’ll wake up today or tomorrow, but he’s here all the same.”

“When do you think she will wake up?” I asked.

“I don’t know. It could be today or tomorrow, next week, next month, next year or even in a hundred years’ time. It all depends on how strong she is and how easily she can pull herself out if this. I can only do so much to help her.”

“She’s very strong,” I decided. “She’ll be back before you know it.”

“I like your confidence, Onyx,” he smiled. “Now, you should really go see the Grand High Sorcerer before he has both our heads.”

“Okay,” I nodded, but I still looked warily at Isla.

“Don’t worry. She’s in safe hands. She’ll be here.”

“Thank you, Professor.”

I was a little shaky on my feet but I managed to walk through the Freedom House. I came to the Oval Room and I noticed how clean it looked. Last time I was in here Serpent was lying dead by the wall and other people were slaughtered all around us. But now it was like it’d never happened, Ludwhig was in the centre of the room wearing a long black robe, looking as handsome and dark as ever. His cold gaze landed on me and I was actually surprised that I didn’t feel any kind of pain. He seemed to be in a good mood.

“The Professor said you wanted to speak to me,” I forced an icy resignation into my voice.

“Yes, I asked the Professor to send you down here as soon as you woke up,” he spoke as I approached.

He cleared his throat awkwardly before he continued, I looked sideways at him and I realised he wasn’t used to this. I felt myself smirk at the thought that he was out of his element.

“I guess, I should thank you for saving my life,” he finally spoke, letting out something close to a sigh. “I know you didn’t have to.”

He was right, I didn’t have to. But it was better to have Ludwhig running the country instead of a stranger. He was a Vice for a reason after all.

“Sure,” I shrugged. “Don’t mention it.”

“Oh, I won’t. But, I’m Grand High Sorcerer now and some of Abalone’s… leniencies won’t stick. I heard that you have magic now and I’m not impressed,” he admitted as he turned on me. “Still, if you’re staying you have to change your name for two reasons one, if you get connected to magic we’re all screwed and two, the name you have now is just odd.”

“Humph, says you,” I muttered.

He glared at me, still not using his power on me. Hey, maybe saving his life made him hate me a little less. He just had a distinct lack of humour.

“Sorry…”

“Go find Blackguard,” he sighed slightly and I saw the starts of something close to a smile on his face. “He’ll take you home.”

“Thank you.”

“Humph,” he waved me away.

I took the closest thing to mutual respect I could get and walked away, looking around for Flash.

I finally found him by a wall with names carved in the stone. I stood beside him and he didn’t move. Along with the fading ones, there were some fresh names etched into it. I realised it was all the victims from Serpent attack. That was a lot of names. I could have so easily been amongst those names. But that wasn’t where Flash was looking, he was looking at some old names. Two ones stood out, the ones Flash were definitely looking at. One was Sarah Hopestone and the other was Alexa Child. Flash looked like he barely knew I was there. I looked at the wall closely, examining more of the names. I spotted Callum’s name there too. At least he’d always be remembered. I looked at Flash and he sighed.

“Are you alright?” he glanced at me.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” I nodded, feeling compelled to ask. “Who were they?”

“Sarah was… she was my wife and Alexa was my daughter,” he breathed sadly. “They’re, no longer with us.”

I hadn’t seen that emotion in Flash’s face before. He didn’t often show facial expressions but for a flicker of a moment I saw true misery on his face.

“Are they the ones Serpent mentioned?”

“Yes,” he turned away for a second. “I don’t like talking about it.”

“I’m sorry,” I was at a loss for words.

“Don’t apologise,” he shook his head, smiling slightly as he gently wrapped an arm around me and kissed the top of my head gently. “Come on, I’d better drop you off at home.”

Home. Huh, I’d actually missed home. I’d missed my bed.

I sat in the passenger seat of the Mercedes and he drove through the dark, empty streets of the city. It felt almost like the city belonged only to us.

“What happened to me?” I asked.

“The Claimer had put a curse of sorts on you, via Serpent, and your magic reacted to it,” he explained. “When Serpent died the magic in your system was too strong for you to handle and it knocked you unconscious.”

“Just like Isla said,” I mused. “I suppose it could have been far worse.”

“It was bad enough, I was worried sick about you for days. Enough people lost their lives, thanks to Serpent.”

“I saw Isla.”

“She’s in pretty bad shape, isn’t she?” he sighed.

Something about what had happened to Isla had been plaguing my mind since I’d heard about it. I couldn’t help but think about it.

“Is it my fault that she got hurt?” I blurted out.

“What?” he looked at me. “Of course, it wasn’t your fault, Onyx. She was incredibly brave trying to save Abalone but she didn’t know how strong The Claimer made Serpent.”

“But, I’m the reason she got involved in all this. If I hadn’t had gotten her involved, then maybe…”

“Onyx, you know that isn’t true. Isla knew full well what was going around her, she didn’t have to try and save Abalone, but she did because of how close they used to be. She got involved in all this because she wanted to. You never forced her.”

“I guess,” I sighed, resting my head against the cold window aa looked outside. “What happened to The Claimer?”

“It’s been locked back up where Callum kept it,” he told me. “Ludwhig thought that’d be the safest place for it until we find a suitable way to destroy it.”

He paused and I glanced back at him as smiled that mysterious smile of his.

“He asked me to give you this too.”

He pulled something out of his pocket, a silver chain entwined around his fingers. He held his hand out and gave me my necklace. I felt my jaw drop, over the moon to get my beloved necklace back.

“Ludwhig asked you to give me this?” I asked dubiously.

“Yeah, weirdly enough,” he seemed just as confused by it. “I guess he’s pretty grateful for you saving his life.”

“He already thanked me,” I put it on. “I was really surprised about that. Let alone this.”

“What did he say to you?”

“He just thanked me really,” I shrugged. “He said some stuff about some of Abalone’s rules not sticking but… yeah.”

“I see you were really listening,” he laughed.

“The main sentiment was the same thing he’s been saying almost constantly,” I easily took on Ludwhig’s distinctive voice. “If you’re staying you have to change your name.”

“It’s like he was in the room,” Flash muttered. “We need to develop a rule, no imitating me.”

“Oh, Flash, I don’t think anybody ever could,” I shook my head with a smile.

“Have you been thinking about your name?”

“A little,” I admitted. “I just… I don’t know. I like the name Onyx. I like names with the letter X in them. It’s a very stylish letter. I wasn’t even that offended when Serpent called me a clever little fox because, hey, there was an X in there.”

“I think that’s probably one of the least offensive things Serpent called you. That along with cute.”

“Cute is kind of offensive. It’s like, ‘you’re useless but it’s sweet to watch you try’. Besides, I’m gorgeous, not cute.”

“That’s a healthy dose of self-confidence you’ve got there,” he chuckled.

“I was rather intensely bullied as a kid. If I didn’t say I was fabulous, nobody would. I’ve come to the conclusion that it was jealousy but, whatever,” I shrugged, thinking for a moment. “You know, I read a book once where the main characters name was ‘Foxx’, with a double X. That was pretty cool.”

“I’ve known many sorcerers who took their names from books. I know a lot of Dante’s.”

“Hmm, I think Foxx would suit me,” I mused.

“You just need a first name to go with it, Miss Foxx,” he glanced over at me. “Hey, you’re right, Very you.”

“I told you, the letter X is phenomenally stylish. Très me,” I laughed slightly. “My mum always told me she and dad were either going to name me Onyx or Roxanne. I’m not sure why they plumped with Onyx. I think I would have preferred Roxanne.”

“Roxanne Foxx,” he paused for a moment. “I think I’d get bored halfway through, you’d have to be a Roxy to me.”

“Roxanne Foxx,” I repeated with a smile. “That has the letter X three times.”

“That’s dedication.”

“It’s a worthy letter,” my smile stretched to a grin. “I like it. I like Roxy too. I think it’ll work.”

Flash soon pulled up outside my house which was shrouded in the darkness of the night. I realised that my house looked kind of creepy at night. I suppose that goes for most houses. The darkness did have a way of plaguing someone’s mind. I wouldn’t be creeped out looking at my house during the day but now, I had no idea what was lurking around.

“I’ll pick you up in the morning,” Flash smiled at me. “I doubt there’ll be any psycho murderers tomorrow.”

“No promises?” I raised an eyebrow.

“Well, you never know,” he shrugged. “Although, I can promise breakfast, on me. I know a café that does a great sausage sandwich,”

“That is the best thing I’ve heard in days,” I leaned my head back with a sigh.

“Get some rest. I can teach you some more about sorcery now that we aren’t in imminent danger. I can’t help much with your imitation, although sounds like you don’t need much, but I can help with the fire. I might start worrying about you less now that I have magic.”

“Somehow, I don’t quite believe that, Flash.”

“You might just be right, Roxy,” he chuckled.

He wrapped his arms around me tightly and I hugged him back. It was nice to know that Flash really cared for me. We made a pretty good team.

“Goodnight Roxy.”

“Goodnight Flash.”

I got out of the car and waved to Flash as he drove away. Dan had a method of sneaking into the house that he’d taught me a few years ago. I bet mum and dad knew about it but just let Dan think he got away with it. I slowly crept up the stairs to my room, wincing at the sound of every creak on the stairs. Soon, I was safely in my bedroom and my clone sat up in the bed looking at me through the darkness.

“Where’ve you been?” she asked in a worried tone. “You’ve been gone for days.”

“I’ve been unconscious, it couldn’t be helped. I assume you handled everything alright?”

“Yeah, you’ll be able to see when you assume your life.”

“Assume my life? Is that the term for it?”

“Yes.”

“Weird,” I muttered.

I clicked my fingers and sifted through my memories as I got undressed. Nothing big had happened. That felt strange. A man had killed god knows how many people and attempted to basically take over the world and nothing eventful had happened to my mortal clone. I lay on my bed and stared up at the ceiling. That was a weird thought. Flash and I saved the world and it was likely that we’d do it again. Maybe. Are there many people out there who are as nefarious as Serpent?

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