Josh and Alice separated from Luna and Check soon after they left the forest. They took a wide route to the town hopefully keeping any eyes off of them. Once within the embrace of Nipawset, they found the road they had met Gerald on the day before. He was there, with a group of townspeople, watching the approach of Ani’s drones.
Alice had spent time over for the past few months learning her own techniques to conjuring useful tools and weapons. She wanted to be prepared one hundred percent to exact her revenge on Ani if the moment ever presented itself to her. As she followed Josh through the streets of Nipawset, she produced a pair of gloves from her bag and slipped them on. Each glove had a conjuration glyph on the palm. She had developed a way to use two glyphs at once to create an object from the center. Instead of pulling a sword out of a single glyph, she could form a sword out of two glyphs, making the entire process much quicker. She also discovered that she could draw a basic conjuration glyph, add little details to encompass large assortments of objects, and only invoke the glyph for the object she wanted.
She nearly shivered at the thought of trying out her gloves on Ani or one of his drones.
Josh and Alice made their way behind the group of townspeople that watched Ani’s approach. Eventually they coaxed Gerald through the crowd to speak with them.
“What are you doing in here?” the old man demanded, obviously angry.
“We need to know the way out of this rift space,” Josh explained, trying to stay calm. “Just tell us the exit and we’ll lure the drones away.”
Gerald huffed in the manner of frustrated adults. Fortunately, the kids were akin to him in some ways. Alice could see the softening of the man’s eyes as they stood there looking at him.
“Okay, children,” he said. “You must follow the river behind the town. Follow it to its end. There you will find a door.”
“Thank you, Gerald,” Josh said politely. “Now we will do what we can to defend Nipawset.”
Without any more words, Alice and Josh took off out of town. When they emerged from the crowd, Ani’s horde had made plenty of progress. A few drones had broken away from the group to engage Luna and Check, who seemed to be doing just fine. Ani walked at the front of his horde, which looked to be around twenty strong. Alice winced, unable to come to terms with a group of enemies so large.
Ani noticed the pair as soon as they left the protection of Nipawset, and he set five large drones on them.
“Uh oh,” Josh breathed. They had stopped walking about ten yards out of town. “We need to think quick.”
“Duh,” Alice grunted. “What can we do?” Frustrated anger built within her at the sight of Ani. She knew she didn’t have the strength to take him down, to avenge the life he had stolen from her. Sometimes she thought she should just leave, go back to her family and be happy, but she knew Ani wouldn’t stop coming for her. Even though he knew she didn’t have the wish glyph, it was part of Ani’s principles to destroy everything unusable to him.
“I have an idea,” Josh said. “Come on.” He took off at a run, closing the gap between them and the drones quickly. When they only had about fifty yards between them, Josh stopped and kneeled. He scrawled a glyph on the ground and activated it. The earth in front of him began falling away into a hundred foot pit. The hole expanded rapidly, too suddenly for the drones to stop and retreat.
“Wow,” Alice gaped. “That was awesome.”
“Can you fill it with cement?” Josh asked.
“Certainly.” Alice stepped to the edge of the hole, clapped her hands together, and two streams of instant cement poured from the glyphs on her hands into the hole. It only took a minute to fill up and dry.
Josh and Alice high-fived.
“There are still a bunch more,” Alice said.
“I know. We’ll deal with them when we need to.”
Five more drones left Ani’s group to be dismantled by Luna and Check. Alice and Josh joined them.
“Are you okay?” Josh asked Luna, who had a few cuts on her arms and one of her face.
“I’m fine,” she replied. “I have tattoos that make me heal quickly.
Check blurred into a boy again and Alice hugged him tightly. She didn’t know much about Check, even since he’d opened up to the group, but something inside of her told her that Check was very important. Something about him made her want to be near him. And she really liked holding his hand.
“You’re okay too?” she asked him.
He nodded. “The rest are coming.”
All four children turned determinedly to face the oncoming drones. Check blurred into a panther once more and pounced at the nearest drone, chomping his leg in his powerful jaw and dragging him away. Luna shouldered one drone into another, taking them out of the fray. The remaining seven still stampeded toward Alice and Josh.
“I have an idea,” Alice said. “Stand behind me and hold my waist. I need you to keep me in place.”
“What are you going to do?” Josh asked.
“You’ll see. I’ve been working on this for a while.”
Josh placed himself behind Alice and wrapped his arms around her. Alice straightened her arms toward the drones, keeping the heels of her palms together. The glyphs on her gloves, when brought together, created another set of conjurations.
“Hold on!” Alice cried. She invoked the glyph.
A ten foot telephone pole shot out of her hands, nearly knocking her and Josh down. The pole soared through the air and blasted a drone in the chest, shattering in a hail of splinters. The drone hit the ground.
“That was awesome!” Josh cheered. “Why a telephone pole?”
Alice shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“Works for me. Keep shooting!”
Alice continued her assault, taking out four more drones while Check and Luna picked off the rest. They came together again, breathing heavily, but feeling triumphant.
“Nice work guys,” Josh said. The four of them sent a round of high-fives about.
“Yes,” came a familiar voice. “Very nice work.”
Shocked, the four young glyph writers slowly turned to face Ani, who now stood mere feet from them, the terrible Thief by his side.
“How di…” Josh began.
“Silence.” Ani sighed. “I’m very tired of your defiance. All this childish resistance is meaningless.” He kneeled then and slapped a glyph on the ground. All twenty of his drones appeared standing around him once more, completely unharmed.
“What?” Check cried.
“How powerful do you four think you are?” he hissed. “You’re just children. You’re pathetic, stupid, useless. All I want is that wish. You can save yourselves a bit of hassle just by giving it to me.”
Josh took a step forward. He looked confident, which Alice didn’t really understand. She shrunk under Ani’s gaze. All of her desires for revenge had fluttered away under that gaze.
“What do you think you’re going to do?” Ani asked venomously. “Do you think you can oppose me?”
Josh shook his head. “No. Of course not. I do think some other things though. I think you’re afraid of something.”
“You can laugh. But…” Josh reached into his bag and produced the book of Verboten Glyphs.
Ani’s eyes went wide. “Where did you get that!”
“Lee left it to us. I can use these glyphs.”
A growl emanated from Ani’s lips. “I’m sure you remember your precious Lee telling you the wish glyph will not work on me. Do you think these other glyphs will?”
Josh shook his head. “I’m not stupid like you seem to think.”
Everything went silent at that moment. Ani seemed to be fed up with the progress he’d made. Alice’s eyes went to Check for a bit of confidence, but the young glyph writer had only fire in his eyes. Despite being ravenous for revenge against Ani, Alice’s nerve had broken quickly under the towering presence of the elder. And Josh’s bluff about being able to use the Verboten Glyphs didn’t help. Ani obviously wasn’t one to back down from a challenge, especially considering his view of children. Alice didn’t know how Josh could possibly have mastered any of the Verboten Glyphs enough to go up against Ani. He’d certainly read the book, but those glyphs were complicated. And they all knew how unstable Josh’s version of Mr. Tuff had been.
The glow from Check’s finger caught Alice’s attention. “Don’t,” she whispered, but Check had obviously made up his mind.
In a split second, Check had blurred into a panther and lunged at the towering elder. Ani broke his gaze away from Josh to look indifferently at the attacker. With a grandiose sweeping motion of both hands, Ani had painted a glowing glyph in the air. Check dove straight through it, freezing as if time had stopped.
“Interesting,” Ani mused. “I knew a tribe of Chimera in my younger days. They were much more barbaric than this child, but he does seem to be just as stupid as them.”
Alice winced as Ani kicked Check in the side to roll away like a log. He quickly turned his pointed face back to the other three. “I want that book,” he stated matter-of-factly. “I want that book and your hand now. I will not take no for an answer, child.”
“We can’t just fight him,” Josh said to the girls, trying to ignore Ani’s predatory glare. “We need to get out of here. We know how to get out.”
“How do you expect us to get away?” Alice asked.
Ani took a tentative step, but Josh’s head whipped around to stare at him. “Don’t,” he ordered. “It’ll only take a thought to activate the glyph on my hand.”
Ani laughed. “What did I say bef…”
“Shut up! I’m not stupid! I don’t have to use the glyph on you to get away from you. Use your brain.”
Now Ani growled.
“I think I can get us away from here,” Josh said. “I can use one of these Verboten Glyphs, hopefully make it strong enough to hold Ani back. It won’t last forever, but we might be able to get away.”
“I don’t think ‘might’ is a good word to use,” Luna said nervously.
Alice took a deep breath. The sight of Ani obviously terrified Luna. Even though Luna had always been the tough guy in the mansion, she seemed quite timid now.
“Trust me, Luna,” Josh said gently. “This is what I’m here for, isn’t it? I came to help save us from Ani.”
“Make your move soon,” Alice said, noticing Ani’s impatience growing.
“Get close to me,” Josh ordered. Alice and Luna obeyed immediately. He reached out and placed a hand on each girl. Alice felt a tingle run down her spine. She looked down to find her body had vanished. Quickly, she looked back at Ani, his eyes burning with fury.
“Uh oh,” Alice muttered.
“Don’t talk,” Josh whispered. He had vanished too. “I don’t know how long this will last. Alice, take Luna. You know the direction. I’ll get Check.”
Alice found Luna’s invisible hand and took off toward the river.
The look on Ani’s face didn’t go wasted on Josh when the invisibility glyph took hold. He also heard Josh make his orders. Josh darted away, the Thief making his own b-line for Check’s frozen body.
With a head start, Josh reached Check first and slapped a glyph on him. As the glyph took glowing hold of Check’s panther body, the Thief came up on the two. The Thief saw the glyph and threw a kick in Josh’s direction. Fortunately, the invisibility helped; otherwise the attack would have laid him out. Instead, the Thief’s heavy boot only connected with Josh’s shoulder, sending him tumbling away. Tears welled up in his eyes almost instantly from the pain.
“Try again,” the Thief taunted in his deep, melodious voice.
More tears came to Josh’s eyes as the truth set in. He couldn’t fight. He had no chance to save his friend. Check hated Ani the most and now he’d end up in the elder’s grasp. Josh made sure to keep quiet, keep his position hidden, but so much sadness and frustration was about to boil over. They thought they could compete with Ani and it turned out they had no chance.
They needed to regroup and make a very good plan. Trying to return to his practical, logical form, Josh decided to follow Luna and Alice. They would devise a quick, well-thought plan to rescue Check. And then they could figure out their next move. After all of this action, Josh had many questions about the details of glyph writing. He had to believe that if they understood fully the art of glyph writing, then they would have a much better chance to stop Ani.
First things first, though. Josh took one last look at his frozen friend and then fled toward the river.