Sleep was close to torture as I tossed and turned the whole night. The fatigue from the night before had laden my limbs and torso with lead but my mind was cluttered with unease.
As a Sage, I was trained not to favour any trainee specifically while I was still their active trainer—my grandfather would have frowned upon me if he had known.
But Heidi was different.
I needed to regroup. I must not allow reason to escape me again. She was taken by Synto and we must free her. I must free her. But I could not do so if I was careless like before. I needed a plan.
The map brought me to an old parking lot of a town that was only used once. Here I summoned the portal where the points of the location in the Worldly realm mirrored the exact location in the Underworld. I cleared my mind and stepped through the portal.
The Desolate Lands. Did Jessie think this place was a good idea? The name was as the place would be—an empty desert with endless sand. Could be, although we could die from thirst and heat. I walked back into the portal and closed it behind me.
As soon as I did, I sensed a presence and pulled out my wand. I pointed at him, all six feet tall. Almost as tall as I was.
“I knew I’d find you here,” old Grand Master Augustine spoke. His voice was low like he was telling a secret.
“What do you want, traitor?”
The old Vampire lifted the left corner of his lips. The right corner remained thin and downward like a deep crease. His right eye was also grey, like it was blind, and a scar ran along the center of his forehead down the middle of his right cheek. I knew he was old but he had always looked healthy.
“I am no traitor to my kingdom but Grand Mistress Ingram is. This,” he waved his fingers to his scar, “is the product of escaping her.”
“You look like hell,” I blurted. “That must’ve been some fight.”
“And you look lost,” he said, his voice a little louder. It was slightly scratchy too. “I’m certain that you have been contacting Lord Voltaire.”
“Who needs to know?” I asked. My guard was always up around that old fool.
Grand Master Augustine laughed through his nose, “I understand that you do not trust me, as you shouldn’t. So tell him that I have information about Synto and I must speak to my king.”
Then he took a few steps closer, “We may have our differences but I would never betray my kingdom.”
“All right,” I said, eyeing him warily, “But make no mistake—I will send you into oblivion without hesitation should you try anything funny.”
* * *
We seated ourselves where we last discussed the attack at the old Lucky Orphan orphanage. Lord Voltaire sat in deep thought whereas Jessie and Wynona watched as Grand Master Augustine paced back and forth. I scrutinised him from head to toe—anything out of line would result in his permanent end. I gripped my wand in my coat pocket.
“Speak now,” Lord Voltaire uttered. There was slight hostility in his tone. “Spare no details, Grand Master.”
Augustine began his recount. “Synto is planning to attack the Worldly Realm tomorrow at sunset. Grand Master Ingram will lead the army on his right, and there’s one more thing.”
“Out with it, Grand Master,” Jessie demanded impatiently. The old Vampire swallowed.
“Synto has a new vessel. And she will lead the army into battle.”
“She?” Lord Voltaire asked, his eyes beginning to flare.
“Heidi,” I muttered. Then I spoke louder, “But if it’s tomorrow you say, then we have some time.”
Augustine took a seat and levelled his gaze on mine with his good eye. “What do you have in mind?”
“I know a place where we can hold the battle that will not disrupt the Worldly Realm. We can bring them to the Underworld.”
“Out of the question,” Jessie opposed. “The Underworld deserves to be preserved and rebuilt afterwards. Besides, Synto has planned to attack the Worldly realm to end human existence. We will let them come and hold the fort as much as we can.”
Lord Voltaire stood up and turned to the window. His lean profile faced outward, hands behind his back. We remained silent for a while and let Jessie’s words sink in.
“Then we will give it our best shot,” Lord Voltaire uttered, words dripping with dread and despair.
I turned to Grand Master Augustine, “Any other Vampires who joined Synto’s army?”
“At least a dozen others, all practising dark magic. But,” the old Vampire sighed heavily, “their aura is unstable and they’re wearing out. Their immortality is at question.”
“Vampires are not meant to possess such powers,” Lord Voltaire turned to us, arms loose by his sides. His red eyes bore on the Grand Master, as a king to his kinsman. “I have seen the attempt, some two hundred years ago, of a Vampire unknowingly sacrificing his immortality to Synto by giving away his Unholy aura, much like what Ingram the others have done. However, Synto was not powerful enough at the time to transfer its dark magic onto the Vampire.”
“She is on the verge of death,” Grand Master Augustine shook his head. “I have known her for as long as I have been a Vampire. I’d never thought this is how she would go.”
“Keep your spirits up, Grand Master,” Jessie spoke, “We’ll need it for the war.”
* * *
The night wore on as I stood by the bedroom window. I traced the ruby on my cuff. My grandfather never had to face this vile devil in his lifetime and my father skipped the responsibility.
Jessie entered the bedroom but I did not turn away from the window. The blackness of the night was more bleak than usual, dark clouds gathering above. An ominous loom.
Jessie said, “You must get some rest, Tristan. Tomorrow will be a long day.”
“I know it will be hard to see her, but she is not her anymore. We will do our best to save her.”
“Is it even possible?” I turned to him. “At this point, I have thrown out all hope. Heidi is as good as dead. This is her fate. Her family’s wrongs will end with her.”
Jessie sat on his bed quietly for a moment. Then he spoke, “Synto will unleash his army by nightfall tomorrow. I have rounded all the Spellcasters; the Adepts, Masters and Virtuosos. The Vampires who are loyal to Voltaire outnumber the traitors. There is hope, Tristan.”
I nodded. “I will send my parents a letter. They can—“
BOOM, a blinding flash of light.
An unexpected force of energy flung me out of the second-storey window. I was thrown hard onto the ground and landed shoulder-first. Soon after, intense heat radiated from the direction of the explosion. Flames lit the first storey of the mansion, the wood crackled and glowed.
Inhuman growls and roars. I tried to push myself off the ground but my arms would not obey. My wand was in my coat somewhere in my bedroom. My vision turned red—I was bleeding from the head. I could feel the dislocation in my shoulder. I inhaled and shoved it back in place.
The growls got nearer. I summoned all my energy to get up off the ground. I steadied myself and tried to follow the direction of the ghastly noises.
A djinn was spotted not too far away from where I was. It moved through the bushes and headed straight for the mansion.
Jessie and Wynona. I raced back to the mansion before the djinns could. I lifted my hand and waved towards the approaching djinn.
“Arsonion oblivion!” I cried. A massive warped portal appeared and three djinns disintegrated in it.
Flames engulfed the entrance. I held out my hand again and yelled, “Frozium!”
Sheets of ice shot out from my fingertips and extinguished the flames. Inside, I heard Voltaire’s voice.
“Voltaire, are you okay?” I cried out. He was heard but unseen.
A djinn lunged from behind me and we crashed into the living area. Chaos descended on the mansion that night. Had the war already begun? How we were blind-sided again? Could this be Grand Master Augustine’s doing? Was he a double agent somehow?
After wrestling with the djinn, I cast the oblivion spell and sent the djinn into it. I looked around the living room to see Grand Master Augustine laid on the dated armchair…
...burnt to a crisp.
“Tristan!” Wynona screamed as a large djinn tackled me through the window and back outside the mansion. It lifted its sharp claws to swipe me but Wynona got to it first. She cast delirium and I sent it to oblivion.
“Where’s Jessie?” I asked as she pulled me up. “And Voltaire?”
“Upstairs. They’re both trapped. We have to help them!”
More djinns approached the mansion. I turned to Wynona’s glowing purple eyes, “Go get them. I’ll hold them off.”
Wynona teleported herself upstairs as I stood in the middle of the first storey. Its walls were broken and the inside of the house had been exposed. There was no line of defence between where I was and whatever that was lurking outside. Synto wasted no time in introducing the fall of the makeshift Lair.
I had no time to retrieve my wand—my limbs were my only weapons. I kept my eyes peeled for any oncoming foe. Nothing. No rustling of the bushes, no ominous wind. No demonic howls. Utter darkness and silence.
“Something isn’t right,” I muttered under my breath. Before I knew it, another explosion occurred, hurling me forward and out of the mansion. The explosion came from the second storey.
* * *
When I came to, I felt a pair of hands lifting me from the ground. The world was a spinning disarray of flashing red and blue lights. Several footsteps crunched the gravel and a male voice talking in my ear. I could not make out the words—everything was muffled.
My vision was only as clear as my hearing. A blurry beige mass waved in my face—the paramedic was trying to tell me something. Soon the cloudiness lifted from my sight and hearing. The red and blue lights became distracting as the paramedic in front of me placed a blanket on my shoulders.
“Mr Embers, you’re likely to have a concussion. We’re going to check you up, okay?” The man spoke in a calm voice, juxtaposing the chaos in the background.
“Where are they?” I croaked. I stopped his hand from reaching my head.
“Mr Embers, the cut on your head needs stitching.”
“I need to know if they’re alive,” I said out loud to no one in particular. I pushed him aside and headed back to the mansion—only half of it was still standing.
Two large djinns tackled and mauled the paramedic. I turned to see them clawing his abdomen.
“Frozium!” I cried before laying a roundhouse kick and shattering them to pieces. I knelt on the ground next to the paramedic and yelled out to the others, “He needs medical attention!”
Djinns were approaching and sneaking about in the night like moving shadows. They seem to be making use of the element of surprise on us. Two other paramedics rushed my way and began their work on the poor man.
“Leave while you can, I need to find my friends,” I said and stood up. “It isn’t safe here.”
I inhaled and held out my hand, “Elemento Inferniate!”
I drew a circle with my arms around us, hoping to get everyone within radius. I cast a spell, a ring of fire, surrounding the mansion. The djinns that were near enough burned and fled while the others stopped in their tracks. One of the paramedics tapped my hand, her eyes fixated on what was behind me. I turned.
Grand Master Ingram was nothing but a walking decomposing corpse. Her porcelain skin was bruised, her blue veins stretched underneath its thin casing of skin. I pushed down the bile that rose up my throat.
“Hello child!” She shrieked, her eyes a wild thing. I readied my stance. There was a chance to destroy her right there and then.
“You’re a little early to the party,” I said, trying to remain calm. The ghoulish sight of her upset me.
She let out a maniacal laugh, “Fool! Do you think we would give away our plans to that silly Augustine? You are all too late! They will march into your safest sanctuary and she will lead the way. Under endless suns, she knows the way!”
Here she pulled Voltaire’s unconscious body forward. The paramedics behind me gasped.
“Unfortunately, he’s still alive,” she scoffed.
“So end him then,” I taunted, one hand behind my back, garnering all the energy I could. “Why waste time?”
The Grand Master narrowed her eyes. “End him now? With the Sage of Untamed magic standing free and unrestrained before me? How stupid do you think I am?”
I could not resist a smirk. However, it faded quickly when she held Voltaire by the neck in one hand and revealed a machete in the other.
“So I improvise.” The Grand Master then looked behind me and cried, “Take him out!”
I turned to see a large djinn, as big as the mansion, dashing towards me from the trees. It was massive enough to snuff out one part of the ring of fire without getting hurt. It had large hands that could wipe me out from existence. As big as it was, it was quick too.
Upon instinct, I raised my palm towards it and yelled, “Elemento Lightningus!”
Current from the dark clouds above us gathered and travelled down into my fingers, then with my energy I transferred the current out of my fingertips and directed it to the monstrous being. As the spell struck, the djinn seized and dropped in front of me and the paramedics.
“Nooo! You fool—”
“Tristan! Behind you!” Yelled one of the para-medics.
I turned instinctively and struck the remainder of the lightning towards Grand Master Ingram who appeared right behind me. Her black eyes widened and mouth hung open as the pure electricity coursed through her, catching her off-guard.
“Voltaire may have spared you after all that you have done,” I snarled through gritted teeth and levelled my eyes with hers, “but I hold no sympathy for traitors.”
Her wild black eyes stared back without blinking as her blue lips twisted into a lopsided grin, “The Academy and all its mortals will fall.”
Slowly, Grand Master Ingram fell to her knees. Her once white skin turned black and she was no more than ash. The djinns around us retreated as soon as she reached the ground, seizing and heaving until she no longer moved.
I headed over to Voltaire who was arousing. The paramedics attended to him as I headed to the second storey.
“They’re okay,” Voltaire muttered, his long blond hair draping over his face. “Ingram cast some kind of holding spell to withhold them. But they should still be one piece.”
“Tristan! What happened?” Jessie exclaimed as he and Wynona descended the stairs.
Voltaire lifted his head with a faint smile, “Your Sage here just single-handedly slayed a gigantic djinn and one of my Grand Masters without his Sage’s ruby. His own energy was so pure that his spellcasting was the single most powerful thing I have ever witnessed. Imagine him channeling all that spell with the Sage’s gem! We have hope indeed.”
“Whoa,” Wynona uttered and her violet eyes flickered to mine, “Yeah...I haven’t seen the colour of your eyes without the ruby. Never realised how...green they are.”
I heaved a sigh of relief. “Are you guys okay? The djinns have already retreated but Grand Master Augustine was not spared.”
“We’re okay, just tensed in the muscles. Grand Master Ingram paralysed us with her dark magic. Not the most fun feeling,” She said as she stretched her neck and arms. The paramedics were sent away by Jessie who began healing Voltaire.
The Academy. “I know where they’ll go. I know where Synto is leading the army.”
The three of them looked up at me and eyed wide with curiosity.
“And we need to go there now.”