Starspire

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Chapter 15: The Heart of the Storm

“Fire!” shouted Alec.

Matt punched the button on his joystick and the Typhoon returned fire. Great blasts of wind and water shot from the cannons on the underside of the plane, rushing forward to meet the dark, deadly cloud.

The typhoon blasts met the attack from the pirate ship and some of the pirate’s cannonballs exploded, but not in the way Matt had expected. They burst and sprayed plumes of water into the starry sky.

The rest of the cannonballs that had not been shot out of the sky, reached them, some going wide and others smashing into the wings or the canopies of their plane. They exploded with huge bursts of water, coating the plane.

“They’re shooting water balloons at us!” cried his dad. “What kind of stupid pirates are these?”

“Don’t be so sure they are stupid,” said Alec. “I’m guessing they have a few more tricks. Prepare to fire again!”

In seconds, they flew within range and all three gunners strafed the deck with their Typhoon Cannons. Great pillars of steam rose up from the deck as the cannons extinguished fires and ripped through sails.

As they retreated from their first attack, the sides of the pirate ship opened up, revealing bright blue glowing strips that ran the length of the ship. The strips glowed momentarily brighter and a blue beam ripped through the skies. When it reached them, the water coating the ship froze instantly, encasing them in an icy shell.

“Smart pirates!” cried Alec. “Didn’t see that one coming.”

“Be a smart Alec and do something about it!” countered his dad.

“What?” said Matt and Alec at once.

“You know what I mean!”

“You’re the ice woman, Bahati,” cried Neil. “Do something!”

Matt looked over at Bahati, who had her eyes clamped shut and had her staff in her hand. The plane continued to descend.

“Well?”

“It’s not the normal kind of ice,” she cried. “It’s laced with dark magic. It won’t listen to me.”

Another volley of black balloons exploded around them, adding another coat to the already thick ice.

“I don’t suppose you have any other rabbits you can pull out of your hat back there? Or hamsters from shoes?” asked his, his voice rising pitch by the word.

“Rabbits? Hamsters?”

Matt groaned. “Don’t confuse him, dad. Bahati can you melt the ice, or do we have to try something else?”

The intercom went silent for a long moment. “There is something I can try, but it is very risky.”

“Riskier than hanging out in an ice-coated plane doing a nose dive?” cried Alec. “I’m up for all suggestions.”

“Yes,” came the reply. “To melt dark ice, I have to use dark fire. It’s not a good idea. It might be even more dangerous than crashing.”

“Any chance is better than no chance,” called his dad, a little louder than necessary. “Do it.”

“Okay,” came Bahati’s strained reply. “Close your eyes. I promise you won’t like what you see. Even you, Alec.”

Matt did s his was told, and Bahati chanted in a strange language that sounded like she was only beginning to learn it.

Matt could sense a new source of light through his closed eyes, but it didn’t feel like warm starlight. Instead, it stung even his closed eye, and heated his blood.

Matt clamped his eyes tighter as a wave of heat flared up around him. When he couldn’t bear the curiosity anymore, he opened his right eye just a slit, and when he saw what was coming, opened both eyes as they could go.

Another dragon rushed towards them, a near replica of the golden one they had recently encountered. Instead of golden plates, the dragon was formed out of pure flames. As the dragon approached, it opened its gaping jaws and roared, sending a flurry of sparks that rushed towards them like a swarm of demon fireflies.

Matt clamped his hands over his eyes though dozens of blazing pinpricks of light remained visible.

The next few seconds left Matt thinking that he’d never complain about turbulence on an airline flight again.

Matt opened his eyes again, just in time to see the pirate ship turn its cannons from the plane to the massive plume of living flame. Launching all guns at once, they showered the dragon with a volley of their cursed cannonballs. The bursts of water, however, simply turned into puffs of steam before the dragon’s raging heat.

With a final lunge, the dragon tore through the pirate ship’s many sails, setting them on fire. The ship floundered and then tumbled from the sky.

Bahati collapsed against his intercom button, inadvertently projecting her moans to the rest of the passengers. Matt saw blisters rising in bunches on her fingers, and saw that her skin scorched and raw like she had spent all day on the beach without sunblock.

Bright spots still swam in front of Matt’s vision like when Tyson had dared him to look directly at the sun. He stuck his face in his hands, muttering to himself as the flaming dragon’s awful face replayed itself in his mind over and over again.

The plane leveled out. “That did the trick!” cried Alec. “Though I can’t find the air conditioning.”

The ice had disappeared, but the dragon’s ‘help’ had turned the plane into a pressure cooker. For the second time that day, alarm bells and lights flashed a dissonant symphony in front of Alec.

“She’ll overheat if we don’t do something fast. We’ve got to either find our way out of here, or put her down. Any ideas back there?”

Matt scanned the skies, but he too badly disoriented to be useful. “Any idea where that golden dragon disappeared to?”

“I think I can get us back in that general direction with the pirates out of the way. But we’ll only have a few minutes before we’ll have to abandon ship, too. The engine’s running hotter than a volcano.”

Alec jerked the controls and the plane spun sharply upwards, the engines protesting. They soared past the burning pirate ship and towards the place where they had last seen the golden dragon.

“I don’t like the look of this,” called Alec. “Seems like we’ll meet up with all the elements tonight.”

Ahead of them loomed a gigantic bank of clouds; dark and towering like the walls of some villain’s fortress. Deep in the heart of the storm, a burst of light flashed briefly and then snuffed out, only to flash again a few seconds later.

“Is that a thunderstorm?” called Matt. “Might be a good place to cool off.”

“Or get us all killed,” shot back Alec. “Do you have any idea what a lightning bolt can do to a plane? One word: suicide.”

Alec slammed the stick to the right to bank away from the storm.

“No,” cried Matt. “Go around for another pass. I don’t think that’s lightning.”

“It’s only our funeral,” Alec said with a sigh, taking the plane back in for another pass. “I guess you can’t cheat death too many times. I’ve lived a nice long life. I just feel bad for the rest of you.”

Matt squinted and studied the flashes. The next two looked exactly like lightning, while the third seemed to be something a little bit more, with a bit of starlight.

“Time’s up, Matt,” yelled Alec as the most obnoxious alarm bell of all blared to life. “I’m taking her down now.”

“Wait,” insisted Matt. “You’ve got to fly into the cloud. That’s where the portal is. We’ll be safe.”

“What?” said Alec. “How do you know that?”

“No thunder,” Matt said, his voice growing raspy. “If those flashes were lightning we would have heard thunder over and over again. Trust me—it’s the portal all right.”

“Trust him!” came his dad’s voice over the intercom. “I hate to admit it, but he’s usually right. He’s just like his mom.”

“Any vote from you Bahati?”

The intercom remained silent.

“With two votes ‘yea’, one ‘nay’ and one sitting it out, we’re heading into the mysterious cloud of doom. Enjoy the trip, and thanks for flying with Alec’s Airline.”

Alec turned the plane and flew directly at the mysterious light in the heart of the clouds. Darkness swirled all about them, choking off all the senses.

Matt, however, was not interested in their impending doom any longer. He gently pressed the intercom, and leaned in close to it. “Dad, you really trust me that much? That’s…uh…”

“Cool? Don’t mention it. I stick by it even if it’s the last decision I’ll ever make.”

Matt’s voice caught in his throat. He never would have guessed. Too bad it took a crisis to make his dad say something like that.

“Dad, I-“

The light flashed again, filling the plane with unbearable brilliance.

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