Julia could not believe her eyes. Varun was breaking free!
“Someone’s been coaching you, Julia,” Varun said in a singsong voice.
His arms bent backward in impossible angles and began snapping off the roots from around his body.
“But, you’re not the only one who knows a thing or two about magic.”
Frantically, Julia sought the vision she had been controlling just moments before, but felt nothing. She was somehow cut off.
*Cut off!* she thought to herself, *He’s doing to me what I did to those Mages!*
“Kindle! Help!” Julia cried as Varun broke free from the final root and stood upright.
He began cracking his joints into place piece by piece. Kindle was fully aflame now, her own emotions rising higher as she circled around on a collision course with Varun.
But she would never get the chance.
Varun shouted a spell and a dark half - sphere surrounded him and Julia.
“Knife Respers!” he called out. “Take care of the flying bug. This one’s mine.” He turned back to Julia and clenched the teeth of his impossibly wide mouth. Julia shrieked and began to run - only to be stopped short by the wall of magic containing them.
“Julia!” Kindle shouted.
*If you want to help her, you’re going to have to take out these Respers* Cirrus reminded her.
Kindle looked down in horror to see the Knife Respers gathering together beneath her. They began to leap - reaching out with their sharp claws. Already they were jumping almost high enough to reach her. Kindle shot up into the air and paused.
*What do I do? I have to help Julia!* she exclaimed in her mind.
Deltia was strangely calm now, in her thoughts. *Kindle, you are a FairyKnight. The time for indecision is past. Those Knife Respers stand between you and Julia. You can do this. You are not alone* Deltia’s voice in her head was both calming and encouraging.
Kindle remembered that Deltia was a veteran of many battles against Rath.
Yes, she was not alone.
Gathering her courage, Kindle struck. Her body was fully aflame now with her fury. She struck the first Knife Resper full on the chest and it burst into flames as it scrambled to rake its claws across her body.
It was too slow.
*Yes!* yelled Cirrus.
Kindle brought her magic blade around and began to spin in place. Her blade became an instrument of destruction as she whirled into the thick of the Knife Respers. Sparks flew as claws met blade. Kindle could feel their claws on her feet and wings, but her new dragon form resisted the attacks. Despite her progress - almost half of the Knife Respers lie in smoking ruins - she despaired.
“This is taking too long! I must save Julia!” she cried.
That was when many things happened all at once. First, a ball of blue lightning appeared out of nowhere and exploded in the midst of the remaining Respers, sending them flying. Secondly, Rein arced over Kindle, his body tucked like an acrobat, and landed with a roll - his twin blades dealing swift death to the nearest Knife Resper. Thirdly, Findar, Kyte and Kalen emerged from the forest at a dead run. Findar flung another ball of blue lightning while Kyte was speaking strange words and brandishing the staff Findar had allowed him to keep.
A blinding light burst from the staff and struck the black sphere surrounding Varun and Julia. Cracks began to spider out from the impact across the sphere. Kael made an elaborate gesture with his hands and leapt into the air - he quickly caught up with Kindle.
“Good grief Kindle, I can’t leave you alone for more than a few minutes before you find yourself in another fight. What will the neighbors say?” he quirked a grim smile.
“Kael! We have to get to Julia! There’s some kind of Rath-twisted Mage in there! He’s going to kill her!” shouted Kindle. Kael blanched.
“Let’s do it, then. I have an idea. Do you trust me?”
“No,” Kindle replied as they circled back around for another pass, “but don’t let that stop you.”
“Ok, stoke up your fire, and hold on!” Kael made another elaborate series of hand gestures in mid-flight with Kindle.
Kindle concentrated, and her burning aura grew brighter and brighter. Within moments, it was as if she was a small sun. The light she cast caused Rein and the others to shield their eyes.
Kael spun a gentle thread of magic around her and began to spin in place himself. Hurling her around and around like a burning sling, faster and faster until he released her directly at the dark sphere with a cry of triumph.
Varun strode confidently up to Julia and grabbed her arm roughly. She screamed once again. Varun was even more terrifying close up, with his black, empty eyes and jagged teeth. His hot breath caused Julia to cough and gag.
*He’s cut me off! What can I do?* Julia cast her awareness out desperately and found herself once again in that black and white vision state.
Varun began chanting something in a sharp, foul language as he raised his other fist. Julia could see the blackened thread that poured energy into Varun from the distant Rath. It was dark and twisted, with threads of purple and green. Julia reached out with her magic and sought to sever that link. Varun’s eye pits widened and he howled in pain, dropping Julia to the ground. It was at that very moment that Kindle struck the globe with all her might - boosted immensely by Kael’s magic.
The dome shattered as Kindle cried out in pain and rebounded in the air - thrown by the force of the explosion.
Varun hissed. “Master Rath! They are too strong for me. I cannot fight them all!”
A heavy, dead voice sounded in Varun’s awareness. *It is of no consequence to me. However, I have further need of you. Mark the girl, and make your escape. And pray you do not fail me again.*
Varun howled again in agony as Julia sought once again to sever his connection to Rath. He grabbed her once again with unnatural strength and lifted her to his face.
“You are providing me with a good chase, Julia. However, it’s time to remind you that you are mine.”
Her eyes widened in terror as he placed a darkened finger on her chest. She screamed in pain as he traced a line down from the nape of her neck to her heart. However when his finger reached the amber necklace he pulled his hand back quickly. Blood flowed from the wound.
Kyte watched Varun grab Julia after he could see again from the blinding flash of the sphere collapsing. Without thinking he leaped toward Varun and struck him with his staff. The magical staff was stopped short by the horrible cape enveloping Varun, but the force of the blow was enough to stop Varun from hurting Julia.
“Let her go you demon-spawn!”
Kyte began to hit Varun over and over again - each time the cape absorbing most of the blow, but preventing Varun from further hurting Julia.
“You little play-thing. You puny toy-mage. Take your stick and go home!”
Varun grasped the staff and black smoke erupted from it where Varun’s skin made contact. Varun yanked it out of Kyte’s hand and hurled it toward Findar, who was almost finished with his next incantation. It struck Findar on the forehead and he toppled over.
Varun turned once again to Julia who was now on the ground weeping.
“I do so love a chase, Julia. And now it begins. Until next time.” Varun spun in place and leaped back into the forest.
A moment later he was gone. Kyte rushed up to Julia and gathered her in his arms. Her chest was bleeding - the amber gem was crimson with her blood. Kael appeared next to Kyte.
“If this was a victory, I don’t want to see a defeat.” Kael said.
Kyte nodded as they both ran to find the others.
Rein stepped out from behind the tree he had been hiding behind and rejoined the others before they could notice that he had been holding back.
Somewhere, in a dark and weakening prison, Rath’s laughter echoed across the chamber.