The Second Invasion
Josh lounged in his bedroom after a long day of practicing glyphs. He spent hours in the library with Luna, Alice, and Check, each of them taking turns demonstrating or explaining some new glyph or technique. Both he and Alice had become very proficient at slapping a glyph down with one shot. Check still struggled with the concept, but collectively, they agreed that if he concentrated on the Morph Glyph, then they’d be in pretty good shape.
The crowning moment of the past year and a half for Josh had been Check’s acceptance of the group. He showed up to eat dinner with the other three kids one night and Josh nearly cheered his arrival. From that point on, they became a well-oiled machine. They learned to work together, using their specialties to complement each other. Check never really opened up, but just his presence within the group made everything better.
One night they sat around the dining room table. Alice conjured a very intricately designed birthday cake for Luna’s sixteenth birthday. Alice and Check had each turned fifteen over the past few months, but Josh was still fourteen. Josh smiled at his best friend from across the table. She had her black hair in a ponytail as usual, and her emerald green eyes shined with delight. She wore a pretty yellow sundress that Alice had also conjured as a birthday gift.
They had decided about a month ago that Luna’s birthday would be the day they try to open the secret door. All of them agreed that they’d grown immensely since Lee sealed them inside Yadwiga Mansion. Josh had a near expert handle on many types of glyphs. He could conjure, enhance, alter, and even transport, though he still became drowsy any time he used the transport glyph. Alice had become even more proficient with the conjuration glyphs. She could bring out just about anything her imagination thought up, even tiny little details about the things she conjured. She had created tons of stuff for them over the past year and half, including the gloves that Josh wore at all times to hide the scar of the wish glyph on his left hand. Check had increased his repertoire of animals to change into while building his glyph writing quickness. And Luna had become somewhat of a teacher. She knew the most about glyphs, and so she facilitated every practice and learning session each day.
Glyph writing had become their lives. From morning to night they studied, practiced, and breathed glyphs. As they sat around the dining room table, snacking on the delicious cake that Alice had conjured, they discussed their magic. Josh’s mind ran rampant with new uses and applications for the glyphs he knew. He couldn’t help but feel proud of himself for bringing the four of them together. He never gave up on any of them and eventually found a way for them to coexist.
“Are we ready?” Alice asked after a few hours of partying. As always, she wore her blue dress and big blond curls.
“I think we are,” Check replied, his voice giddy.
“Me too,” Luna and Josh agreed.
“Let’s go!” Alice cheered.
They ran up the stairs of the mansion, nearly trampling each other in a sudden race to the secret door. Luna took a commanding lead, as the glyphs on her legs gave her inhuman speed. The other three reached the door breathing heavily to find Luna standing there looking freshly showered and awake.
“You guys are wimps,” she joked.
The mirth quickly subsided as the four children turned to the door, faced their futures. Each of them had packed a backpack with essentials because they all figured they’d never be back to the mansion ever again. Alice had a couple of blue dresses and her curling iron. Check had his Chimera handbook and a Nintendo 3DS with a handful of games. Luna had a few dresses, ribbons, and her favorite glyph writing books. Josh had the tome of Verboten Glyphs and his own Nintendo 3DS. Before the birthday party, Josh had also lovingly hung Mr. Tuff’s suit in his closet.
“This is our time now, guys,” Josh said, trying to be a leader. He thought of himself as the leader. And he felt like the rest of them thought so too.
“Let’s do this,” Luna breathed.
Josh nodded determinedly. He took a deep breath and noticed Check and Alice holding hands. He let his own hand drift into Luna’s. She squeezed securely. Then he slowly reached his hand out toward the door. The glyph on the doorknob seemed to twitch in anticipation of Josh’s touch. The tips of the lines began to glow dully as if the power were still being quelled by their lack of readiness.
“What the hell,” Check muttered. He sounded close to breaking down. Despite his getting along with the group, Josh knew Check pined to be reunited with Lee.
Josh took another deep breath. Just do it, he thought. He reached out suddenly and grabbed the doorknob.
The entire mansion shook as if an earthquake were shaking the world. Alice fell down and Check helped her up. And then a voice boomed through the halls of the mansion.
“I’m tired of all this wasted time!”
Josh and Luna shared a tense glance. “That’s Ani’s voice,” Luna stated, her voice nervous.
“How?” Josh asked.
“Let’s go see,” Alice said. “He’s probably at the front door. It’s the only way in.”
“What about this door?” Check cried. He grabbed at the doorknob and yanked and pulled with all his might. The door stayed shut. “No! We’re supposed to be able to get through!”
“Children…” Ani’s voice beckoned venomously. “I have something you might want to see.”
Now all four of them swapped nervous glances. Wordlessly, they made their way down to the front hall.
Ani stood there in all his horror. He managed to grin and frown at the same time, making him look quite frightening. Josh could feel a lust for power in the man’s eyes. Ani had the Thief by his side as well as three more drones. Behind them, where the blank wall had once been a door, there stood a swirling black vortex.
“I’m too powerful to keep out forever,” he hissed.
“What do you want?” Josh demanded.
“Oh, boy, you know what I want. Just let me take off your hand and I’ll be satisfied.”
“You talk about how powerful you,” Luna spat, “yet you don’t just come take what you want. Are you afraid?”
Ani gritted his teeth in the face of Luna’s insolence. “Well, little girl, I’m not stupid. And I know how stupid children like yourselves might act irrationally. I wouldn’t want this little boy using the wish glyph on a whim and wishing the world away.”
Josh took a deep breath. “What do you have that we want to see?”
“Ah, so you can listen. You see, in my experience, children are so very stupid. Not much of a challenge, really.”
“Then come get us!” Check burst out. “Where’s Lee?”
“Oh, yes, you are the one who loves Lee,” Ani purred. “Well, how about this, then?”
Out of the black vortex fell a heap of people. The drones began sorting the people and standing them up. Each person was bound with rope that Josh could tell had been enhanced to unbreakable strength. Josh also recognized most of the people. His chest tightened up with fear and anger.
Ani stood next to Lee. “You all know this fellow,” he said. “I’m sure you’d all like to see him free of my grasp.” He faced the children. “Some of you know the rest too.”
“You have to get away, children,” Lee said urgently. “You’ve all been there before. You have to go back. It’s the only way to…” Ani slapped a glyph over Lee’s mouth to silence him.
“Mom!” Alice cried. She burst into tears, weeping wildly uncontrolled. “Dad! Lisa!” She made a move toward them, but the Thief stepped in front of her and laid a hard slap across her face.
“Hey!” Check shouted. In that same moment, a feral growl escaped his lips and in his place stood a massive black panther.
“That’s fine, boy,” Ani said without concern. “You may attack, but know that all these people will die if you do.”
“Mom,” Josh said with a breaking voice. “Dad. Are you okay?”
They nodded, tears in their eyes.
“I’m going to save you,” Josh said with sudden resolve. “You told me to not be afraid of what’s in front of me. I’ll never be afraid. I’ll never give up finding you.”
“We know, son,” Josh’s dad said.
“Shut up!” shouted a drone as he hit Josh’s dad in the gut.
“No!” Josh cried. He spun and slapped the transport glyph on the wall next to him. Josh appeared behind the pair of goons holding the ropes of Alice’s family. He used both hands to slap transport glyphs onto the back’s of the drones, sending them away instantly. He did the same to Alice’s mom, dad, and sister.
Ani spun on his heel, his eyes burning with fury. “I told you I would destroy them!”
“I’m not afraid of you!” Josh reiterated.
Everything turned into anarchy at that moment. Ani lunged at Josh, but Luna was there, grabbing the elder’s shirt and grappling him away up the stairs. Check pounced on the Thief, who moved to intercept Luna. Alice conjured a block of instant-dry cement around the third drone, trapping him indefinitely. Josh quickly transported the cemented drone away, but then everything ended abruptly when Ani stood up to his full height, holding a struggling Luna in his arms.
Josh had been moving toward his family, but stopped in his tracks. Alice did the same and Check backed off of the Thief, whose face had become a scratching post. Check faded into his human form.
“Now we have a problem,” Ani grumped. “All I wanted was your hand. And now I will kill this girl if you do not do what I want.”
Josh felt a gripping fear in his chest. The anger from seeing Luna in danger trumped even the anger from seeing his parents in danger. He wanted to tear Ani to pieces, but knew he didn’t stand a chance.
“Do something, Josh!” Alice cried.
Josh glanced at her fearfully.
“You sent away three of my hostages,” Ani went on. “Unacceptable. I’m at the end of my rope, here, and that doesn’t bode well for you.”
Josh gritted his teeth and anger welled up inside of him. He started taking heavy, deliberate breaths, slowly growing more and more furious.
“Wipe that grimace off your face,” Ani snarled. “I am not bluffing. This girl will die.”
A low, visceral growl escaped Josh’s lips. “Ani, you think this is where you get what you’ve been searching for. But I see it a little differently. You will give me Luna. You will give me Lee and my parents. And you will leave us alone.”
Ani’s eyebrows went up in surprise. “Really? I don’t see how you can call the shots here.”
Josh raised his left hand into the air. He glared at Ani with pure hatred. “The wish glyph is written on my palm. All it’ll take for you to be gone is one thought from me.”
“You can’t affect me, stupid child. I’m too powerful.”
“And I’m very angry. Would you like to test me?”
Ani sneered. “I’ll give you the girl, fine. But not the rest. You’re right, this isn’t over. I’ll take my hostages and you’ll be seeing me again.” He signaled to the Thief.
The tattooed man quickly gathered Josh’s parents, throwing them through the black vortex. Then he grabbed Lee by the throat and pushed him through.
Josh slowly lowered his hand out of the air. “Give her to me,” he growled.
“Fine,” Ani grumped. He pushed Luna away into Josh’s arms. Then he slowly walked toward Josh, coming only inches from him. “You better find yourself a good place to hide. I will find you again. And next time you will be overwhelmed.”
“You’re fooling yourself,” Josh hissed, refusing to back down.
“No! Do not kid yourself, child. It may take a lot to overwhelm the four of you. But I promise, when we meet again you will not have what it takes to deal with the force I bring against you.”
“I’m not afraid of you,” Josh said staunchly. He tried to slap his hand against Ani’s chest, but the elder caught Josh’s wrist.
“That transport glyph will not work on me,” he said. And he threw Josh’s arm to the side. Then he turned and made for the vortex with the Thief by his side. But just before he stepped into the black, Ani turned.
“There is one more thing,” he said, “that I’ll leave you with.”
Ani stepped through the black vortex at the same time as a giant, hulking, fully tattooed drone stepped into the mansion. The vortex vanished. The drone stood seven feet tall and must have weighed three hundred pounds. His body seemed to be pure muscle. And he had so many tattoos that his skin was barely visible.
“We have to run,” Josh said. The four of them grouped together and slowly backed away from the drone.
“To where?” Alice asked. “There’s nowhere to go.”
“Lee said we need to go where we’ve all been before,” Check said.
“Where’s that?” Luna cried.
“The snow,” Josh answered.
“How do we get there, though?”
“Through the valley?”
“The valley doesn’t go anywhere,” Alice said. “It’s a rift. We’d need a Dimensioneer to get out.”
“You’re right,” Josh admitted.
They were halfway up the staircase by now, the hulking drone taking his time. He suddenly reared back and smashed the lower half of the staircase to pieces.
“Go!” Josh cried. “We have no other options!”
They took off up the floors of the mansion as the drone broke into a chase behind them. Still with their backpacks on, the four friends crashed through the secret hallway and into Luna’s meadow. They managed to put about three hundred yards between them and the door when the drone made his way through.
They glanced back, but plodded on.
“Have you ever explored the boundaries of this rift space?” Check asked.
“No,” Luna replied. “I never thought it necessary. But you can see mountains in the distance. And there’s a river. So, maybe it’s bigger than I thought.”
“Let’s hope so,” Josh said.
They walked for a bit, letting the drone close the gap between them. And then they took off at a run. They followed the valley to the mountains, then followed the river through the mountains. The shadow of the drone remained on their tail, but they managed to keep ahead of him fine.
The whole day went by as they traveled through the rift space. They crested a final ridge on the other side of the mountains to look down into another valley.
“Oh my god,” Luna breathed. “There’s a town here.”