The Author’s Apprentice

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Chapter 12

We reappeared in the chamber. I exhaled deeply, beyond relieved that my key had worked. The three of us walked out of the chamber and out the tunnel, pausing on the ledge we came out on.

“Do you know where to go from here?” Ruth asked me.

“Not exactly,” I replied, “but I know how to figure it out.” I took the compass and held it up, then said what I assumed would be the keyword. “Darkness.”

Nothing happened.

Ruth cocked an eyebrow.

“I guess that’s not the keyword,” I said, my face red from embarrassment. “Give me a second.”

I paused, wondering what the keyword could be. Understand what you stand for, the clue had said. What did the Dark Alliance stand for?

I then remembered what the scrolls in the Archives had said about the Dark Alliance’s mission statement. Maybe…

I held up the compass again and said softly, “Acceptance.”

With that one word, the fiery omega symbol lit up with a hazy blacklight. The compass needle whirled around and pointed north.

“North it is,” I said, looking out in the direction the needle was pointing.

And with that, we began our journey through Zion.

We weaved our way through the cliffs, heaving ourselves over boulders and cautiously navigating rocky tunnels. We scaled ledges and picked our way down steep ridges. We pushed through brush and thick rows of trees. It was night by the time we found our way out of the mountains. The sun had set, the stars were out, and the moon was a glowing crescent that hung in the darkening sky. We stood at the edge of a dark, eerily familiar forest. The ashen trees loomed over us, creating a canopy of shade that covered the entire forest.

Ruth drew a long staff tipped with round, slim white blades on either side from under her cloak. “This seems about right,” she said. If the forest intimidated her in any way, she didn’t show it.

Joshua, on the other hand, was outright trembling. He held out his hand and stammered, “L-lux.”

As he spoke the word, light from around us swirled together and formed a glowing orb in Joshua’s palm that illuminated the area around us.

Nervously, we pushed forward, traveling deep into the thick woods. The deeper we went, the eerier our surroundings became. The trees were all charred and black, as if there had been a wildfire. The ground was littered with black leaves, and the dirt was gray. It may have been just in my head, but I thought I heard whispers echoing from the darkest corners of the forest.

I gazed around the forest, seeing and hearing nothing but the cold, whispering voices — which seemed to be getting louder. Yes, I was definitely hearing whispers. The compass seemed to be leading us to the sound, which got louder and harsher the closer we got. By the time we reached the source of the sound, it no longer sounded like whispering — it sounded like thrashing and hissing, as if a wild animal was trying to break free of a restraint. And as I looked upon the source of the noise, I suddenly realized why this place had looked familiar.

It was the same forest that I had seen in my dreams. I now stood before the tree stump that the smoky claws were trying to escape from, held back by the Agapē Order’s symbol floating above them.

“What is that?” Joshua asked fearfully.

“I don’t know,” I said. I gazed at the stump, petrified. I wanted to get far away from this place as soon as possible; it brought back too many bad memories. “We should go.”

We continued past the stump and further into the woods, following the compass’s guide, the unsettling aura of fear surrounding us growing ever stronger.

And then we found the doors.

They were tall, glossy, and as black as obsidian, embedded in the side of a craggy, shadowy mount. They almost seemed to beckon us closer, in a haunting way, as if calling us to our doom.

Fear immediately gripped me, but I pushed it down. I had to find Logan and Evelyn before it was too late.

With a deep breath to try to calm my nerves, I placed my hands on the cold, black doors, and pushed them open.

Behind the doors lay a dark staircase with nearly no light illuminating the steps. The shadows encompassing the hall seemed to shift and quaver, and the hissing whispers echoed even louder from inside. I swallowed back my fear and took a step down into the dark stairway, Ruth and Joshua behind me. And as soon as all three of us were inside, the doors slammed shut behind us, casting the entire stairway in complete darkness.

I gulped. There was no turning back now.

Joshua muttered, “Lux crescere.” The orb of light in his hand grew brighter and banished most of the shadows around us.

With his light, we found our way down the stairs, venturing deep into the earth, until we reached the bottom. Joshua extended his hand forward, illuminating another door similar to the two we had just come in through. We anxiously walked through the door and into a large, dark hallway that twisted and turned, with several doorways that looked like a wrecking ball had smashed through the rock to create them. The walls and floor were made of cold, dark stone that was crudely cut and looked like they were on the brink of crumbling.

We stood by the doorway we had just entered through. It was eerily quiet.

“We were right to come at nighttime — everyone must be asleep,” Ruth whispered. “Bit disappointing. I was hoping for a fight.”

“Let’s go,” I said, taking a step forward.

As soon as I moved away from the door, a series of wails and shrieks pierced the air. We covered our ears to try and block out the painful noise.

“What is that?” Joshua cried.

“An alarm!” I shouted over the noise. “I think Ruth’s about to get her wish!”

Right on cue, a legion of sentient shadows flooded the hall, heading straight for us in a flurry of dark smoke.

Ruth gripped her staff, and Joshua frantically weaved together strands of golden light between his hands. I summoned my sword, and we prepared to fight. Joshua shot orbs of light from his palms, disintegrating the shadows that led the charge toward us, but more quickly took their place.

Ruth let out a battle cry and charged forward, twirling her staff and slicing through shadow after shadow. Impressed by her bravery, I followed suit, swinging my sword with all my might. But there were so many shadows, it began to seem like we would never defeat them.

“What do we do?” I shouted. “There are too many of them!”

“I have an idea!” said Joshua. “Cover your eyes!”

We did as he said, and he shouted, “Praeclarum lux!”

From behind my eyelids, I saw a brilliant flash of light that flooded the hallway and heard a deafening shriek from the shadows as they were vaporized.

I opened my eyes. There was no trace of the army of shadows that had just been there except for a few wisps of smoke that floated about. Joshua was standing in the middle of the hall, panting. His arm was outstretched and the glow from his palm was still fading.

“Josh, that was incredible!” said Ruth, giving him a friendly punch on the arm. “‘Can barely bend a sun ray,’ my behind!”

“That was amazing, Joshua,” I said, in agreement with Ruth.

“You’re definitely more powerful than you let on.”

Joshua rubbed his arm and gave a weak laugh. “Thanks,” he said, his voice trembling slightly. “Now, let’s find your friends so we can get the heck out of here already.”

We continued down the dark hall, keeping our weapons at the ready. Anxious, I tried reaching out with my mind.

Logan? Can you hear me?

There was no response, but I sensed he was close. His thoughts were weak, hazy. A darkness hung over his mind. We were running out of time.

“We should split up,” I said.

“What?” said Joshua. “It’s never a good idea to split up — under any circumstances.”

“I think I know where Logan is,” I said. “Just — you guys keep looking, and I’ll go find him.”

“Are you sure, Stormi?” said Ruth. “It’s dangerous here. It might be a better idea to stick together.”

“I can do this,” I said. “I’ll find you guys after.”

Ruth looked hesitant, but nodded in consent. “Be careful.”

“I will,” I said. Then I headed down another hall, following Logan’s thoughts and calling out with my mind all the while.

Logan, are you there? Logan?

I felt I was getting closer. My pace accelerated.

Logan? Logan, can you hear me?

He was close. I could feel it.

Logan?

…S…St…Stormi?

I froze in place when I heard his voice. He was right there.

Right behind the door.

I placed my hands on the black metal door, desperate to get to Logan — but as soon as my fingertips made contact with the door, my scar burned.

I cried out in surprise, putting a hand on my still-bandaged cheek. I should have known it wouldn’t be that easy.

I stared at the door, trying to figure out how to open it. There was no handle, and even if I could touch it, I doubted it could be pushed open. This was going to take some magic.

I held out my palm, racked my brain for the right phrase, then said, “Lux aperuerit ianuam!”

Tendrils of blue and gold light shot from my palm, weaving together and colliding with the door. The door shuddered, then swung open. Behind it was what looked like a wall of shadowy smoke that started flowing out now that the door was opened. My immediate reaction was to jump backward; I wanted to get as far away from the doorway as I could. The whole area radiated pure terror.

I clenched my jaw, steeling myself. I have to do this. For Logan. I took a deep breath, summoned all my courage, then walked through the wall of smoke.

The inky mist clung to me, seeping into my skin and chilling me to the bone. It was like I was being drenched in ice-cold water. I shivered and rubbed my arms in a vain attempt to warm them. I looked around, but all I could see was darkness. I seemed to be in some sort of room, but I couldn’t see any walls, ceiling, or doors — even the one I had entered through had faded away in the shadows.

And then I heard the voices.

They were similar to the whispers I’d heard in the forest, except instead of just muttering unintelligibly, they were now forming words. It was like they were whispering in my ears, sending chills down my spine.

You’re a failure.

My eyes darted around anxiously, trying to find the source of the whispering, but I still saw nothing but darkness.

You failed them… They hate you…

“What are you?” I shouted. “Show yourself!”

Logan hates you… He’d rather rot in his prison than be rescued by you.

“You — you’re lying!” I stammered, my voice trembling slightly.

He was lying…when he said he cared for you. He couldn’t care less…

“Liar!” I yelled. I continued whipping my head around, searching for the voice, my vision blurred with tears.

You’re a weakling… An idiot… A coward.

“SHUT UP!” I screamed.

And the room went dead quiet.

I blinked, looking around. The shadows in front of me started swirling around, forming a dark figure. And then they faded away, revealing a curly-haired, tan-skinned boy.

“Logan!” I exclaimed, starting toward him. “Logan, I’m so glad you’re — ”

“You failed me,” he whispered.

I froze midstep. “W-what?”

“All of this is because of you,” he said, his forest-green eyes swirling with anger and hurt. “The Library wouldn’t have been destroyed if it weren’t for you. Kai wouldn’t have found us if it weren’t for you. I wouldn’t be here right now if it weren’t for you.”

My brow furrowed, and I felt a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. “But — I didn’t mean to,” I said. “I’m sorry — I didn’t know…”

“You should have known!” he snapped. “Your carelessness burned down the Library, killed the Author and Emily, and ruined our lives!”

I stared at him blankly, my eyes misty. “Logan, I — I’m sorry — ”

“It’s too late for that,” he said, casting his eyes down. “You failed me. You failed everyone.”

Tears rolled down my face. “Logan, please — I didn’t mean to — ” I choked, unable to get the words out as I stifled a sob. I didn’t understand. It wasn’t like Logan to say things like this…

And then it hit me.

“This isn’t real,” I said. “You’re not Logan.”

He grinned up at me, and I gave a start; his eyes were now pure white. “Well done, little Storyteller,” he hissed sarcastically.

I summoned my sword, gripping the hilt tightly. “What have you done with Logan? Who are you?”

“Not who, but what,” said the fake Logan. He held out his hands, and shadow smoke swirled around him. When it faded, the fake Logan had transformed into a creature with skin the color of ash and sharp, pronged black horns. Its eyes were still a stark white — no pupils, no irises — and they glowed eerily. It flashed me a grin full of fangs. “I’m a phobian, a creature of fear straight from the pits of the Dark Dimension.” It extended its palm, and a smoky black sword took shape in its hand. It pointed it at me. “And you are as good as dead.”

Before I could even react, the phobian flew at me and aimed the tip of its blade at my chest. I quickly held my blade up to block its and made it just in time. The impact of the phobian’s blow nearly knocked me off my feet. It cackled, as if it was enjoying this.

It made to strike again, but this time I was ready. I widened my stance so that I was firmly grounded, just as the Author had taught me. As the phobian rushed toward me, sword brandished, I extended my arm and focused on the blade. I then clenched my fist and pulled my arm to the left. The blade followed my motions, dragging the phobian along with it. I yanked my arm down, and both the sword and the phobian slammed into the ground.

Then, gripping my sword and pushing back my fear, I charged the phobian.

While it was still disoriented, I dashed at it and swung my sword. It anticipated my movements in time to dodge, but not quick enough to avoid a slash on the arm. It howled in pain. “You’ll pay for that, human,” it hissed, its voice like a chorus of snakes.

The phobian launched at me and knocked me off my feet. I quickly pushed myself back up and looked around. The phobian had vanished.

I gripped my sword, looking around for the creature. I heard a shuffling sound behind me, and I immediately whirled around and made to attack — but I froze when I saw Logan once again.

He looked up at me with fearful eyes, clutching a gash in his arm that was dripping blood. “W-why are you attacking me, Stormi?” he asked, his voice quivering.

I shook my head rapidly, shutting my eyes. This isn’t real, this isn’t real…

While my eyes were closed, I felt something metal hit me hard in the chest, knocking me to the ground again.

I gasped, out of breath. I pushed myself up, and saw Logan in front of me again. He was covered in slashes, blood pouring from the wounds. “Stormi, please,” he begged, tears filling his eyes.

“Stop it!” I shrieked. “This isn’t real!”

I pushed myself to my feet and gripped my sword. The phobian disappeared again, and my gaze darted all around the darkness as I searched for it.

“Give up, Stormi,” the phobian hissed. “You can’t fight fear.”

I whirled around to face the direction of the voice and thrust my sword forward. The blade sunk into Logan’s chest, and he looked up at me with a face full of shock. I stood my ground, my grip tight on the sword. “I’m not afraid.”

His expression shifted from a look of shock to one of defeat, and his eyes became white again. “Impressive, Storyteller,” it said, not sounding the slightest bit impressed. “You win this round.”

And with that, the phobian burst into smoke. The creature had vanished, and with it darkness that surrounded me.

I blinked. I was in a small room lit only by the light-blue glow of my sword. It was completely empty, except for a giant black plant that was snaking up the side of the wall like a large vine — and a teenage boy that was encased in its tendrils.

“L-Logan?” I said warily, unsure if this was another trick.

Logan lifted his head, looking at me through his copper curls. His face was thin and pale, and he had shadows under his eyes, which widened in shock when he saw me. “Stormcloud?” His brow furrowed as a worried expression crossed his face. His eyes unfocused, and he looked past me. “No…no! Stormi, no…please!”

“Logan? Logan, I’m right here!” I said, but he didn’t seem to hear me.

“Please, no…don’t hurt her!” he begged, gazing into the distance with wide eyes. “Stormi, no!”

Panicked, I swung at the vine-like plant with my sword, trying to cut Logan free.

The blade bounced right off.

“What?” I tried again, hacking at the plant, but I couldn’t cut through it.

Logan was now just as panicked as me, struggling and pleading and staring fearfully at whatever it was he saw.

Unsure of what else to do, I looked in my bag for something helpful and spotted the teardrop-shaped dagger. Desperate, I grabbed the dagger, held it over my head, and stabbed the plant.

Suddenly, Logan went quiet and hung his head.

“Logan?” I said anxiously. “Logan, are you okay?!”

He slowly lifted his head, his eyes fluttering open. When they landed on me, he relaxed visibly. “Stormi…you’re alive!”

I let out a sigh of relief. “Yeah, why wouldn’t I be?” I asked.

“I — I saw…” He shook his head, as if to clear his mind of bad memories. “Never mind.”

“Don’t worry,” I said, “I’m going to get you out of here.”

Logan shook his head.

“What?” I asked.

“You can’t cut this plant,” he said, his expression somber. “It’s Phobatendril.”

“What…what’s Phobatendril?” I asked, unsure if I wanted to hear the answer.

“It’s a mythical parasitic plant,” said Logan. “It wraps around its victims and feeds off of their fear, eventually sucking away their life. After a while, it gives them visions of their worst fears to scare them even further. And at that point…it’s usually too late.”

My gut clenched. “No…it’s never too late. I’m not letting you die.” I grasped the hilt of the dagger, sawing through the thick tendril.

Logan’s brows raised as he looked at the dagger. “How — ?”

“I don’t know,” I said, “but it works. I’m going to get you out of here.” With a great heave, I pulled the dagger all the way through the tendril, and with a faint shriek, the severed vine fell to the ground. I panted, rubbing my arm as I stared at the plant. “This may take a while.”

As I worked on sawing through the rest of the Phobatendril’s limbs, a question came to mind. “Hey, Logan,” I said awkwardly, “…did you mean it?”

He looked at me. “Mean what?” he asked.

“What you said, back in the chamber. Before you pushed me into the portal — which, don’t think I’ve forgotten about that. I plan to scold you plenty once I’ve gotten you to safety.”

Logan chuckled, blushing slightly. “Of course I meant it.”

I blushed. “I just…I don’t get it. Why you’d settle for someone like me.”

He gave me a look that said, I thought I told you not to self-deprecate.

“I’m sorry, but I really don’t understand,” I said. “What do you see in me?”

“Geez, where do I start?” Logan said with a snicker. “Well, let’s see — you’re funny, cute, incredibly smart, understanding…the list goes on. And the fact that you’re currently saving my life is pretty darn attractive.”

I laughed, blushing even more. “What was I supposed to do, leave you? You know that’s never going to happen.”

Logan smiled fondly at me. “You really want to know what I see in you?” He sighed. “I grew up with the other Storytellers, and they all seemed to have something that made them…them. Kayla’s the fighter, Brad’s the leader, Ev’s the common sense. And I was just…me. I never really had anything that made me special. I was pretty insecure as a kid, so I tried to kind of cover it up by cracking jokes and laughing stuff off. It was like a defense mechanism. I was too afraid to open up, let people see the real me, because…I was afraid they wouldn’t like what they saw. But with you…I’m not afraid. You’re so accepting, and I just feel like I can tell you anything…kind of like how I am now. You just…make me feel like somebody.”

“Logan, you are somebody,” I said. “You know what makes you special? You’re the bravest, most selfless person I know. You’d run into battle without a second thought just to protect your friends. You’d risk getting captured and even killed just to make sure I was safe. You’re always looking out for others before yourself. That’s what makes you you.”

He smiled at the ground, his face turning pink.

“But — while we’re sharing insecurities — I get it,” I told him. “Although, my experiences are kind of opposite… I’ve always been the odd one in any group. I’ve never really been able to find a place I fit in, or people I fit with, so I just…didn’t bother getting attached. And now that I’ve found a place with the Storytellers, with you and Evelyn, I’m terrified of screwing it up. Of being alone again.”

Logan gave me a sympathetic look. “Well, one thing’s for sure — you’re not getting rid of me any time soon. Us two misfits are stuck with each other.”

I blushed even more. “Okay, just shut up and let me rescue you already. My face can’t take much more of this blushing.”

Logan chuckled.

“Oh, and one more thing, Lo…”

He glanced at me curiously.

“I love you too.”

After a lot of work driving the dagger through the Phobatendril’s thick roots, the plant shriveled up and peeled away from the wall, releasing its hold on Logan. He stepped out of the plant’s tendrils, and I threw my arms around him. “Don’t ever do this to me again,” I said, squeezing him tightly. “Next time we’re in danger, let me push you to safety.”

Logan laughed. “Let’s hope there is no next time. Now, come on, let’s go get Evelyn.”

We headed out of the cell and through the shadowy hall that felt empty now that the demon was gone. I grasped Logan’s hand tightly, afraid to let go again. We leaned out the doorway, looking for any approaching enemies. When we saw none, we headed out, our hands still clasped.

“Do you know where they put Evelyn?” I asked as we headed down the endless, twisting hallways.

“No clue,” he replied helpfully. “I tried contacting her mentally, but I couldn’t quite get in touch with her. I could sense her thoughts somewhere nearby, but I was never able to make direct contact.”

“I’ll try contacting her,” I said. I reached out with my mind, calling to Evelyn with my thoughts.

A shudder ran through me when I touched her mind. She was unconscious, and her mind was overrun with fear. “We’re losing her,” I said urgently.

Still clutching Logan’s hand, I led him down the halls, following the fear pulsing from Evelyn’s consciousness. We dashed through the corridors, the feeling of fear getting closer and closer, until we turned a corner and —

“Ahh!” I shouted as a blade was held to my throat.

“Stormi!” said Ruth, lowering her weapon.

I let out a sigh of relief. I started to speak when Ruth pulled me and Logan behind the corner, pressing us against the wall.

“Ruth, what — ” I started, but she put a finger to her lips, gesturing for us to be quiet.

Who is that? Logan asked me telepathically.

A friend of mine, I replied. She’s from the Agapē Order.

What? But — how — ?

I’ll explain later.

Ruth peered around the corner, then let out an exhale. “Okay, it’s safe,” she said.

“Ruth, what’s going on?” I asked. “Where’s Joshua?”

“We got separated,” Ruth explained. “We were caught by some Dark Alliance warriors. I turned the corner to dodge a spike of shadow smoke, and then…he was gone.”

“We’ll find him,” I said. “But we need to find Evelyn first; she doesn’t have much time left.”

“No,” said a cold voice from behind us. “She has no time at all.”

I whirled around, summoning my sword instinctively.

A tall, dark form stood in the hall. A black cloak was draped over the figure, and the hood of the cloak obscured his face — though his eerie yellow eyes shone through. Shadows swirled around him, clinging to him like a hazy veil. And behind him, suspended midair in clouds of shadow smoke, were the unconscious forms of Joshua and Evelyn.

“Stormi Griffin,” said the figure. “So nice to finally meet you.”

“You,” I said, my mouth going dry. I instantly recognized this figure from my dreams and visions.

“Who are you?” Ruth asked, glaring at the figure.

“Would you look at that,” he said, sounding slightly amused. “One of the Agapē cowards decided to come out from the rock they’ve been living under.” He smirked. “My name is Kievan Emerson. You don’t know me, but I believe you two know my brother,” he said to me and Logan.

A teen boy appeared at the cloaked figure’s side, his eyes on the ground.

“Kai,” I said softly.

“He may have had some trouble along the way, but he got you here. And now, we can finally talk.”

“What do you want?” I demanded.

“I’m offering you a deal,” said Kievan. “You give up your magic, then tell the Three Alliances to surrender. Do so, and we’ll spare thousands of lives — including these two.” He gestured to Joshua and Evelyn. “Don’t, and they’ll be consumed by fear. Not exactly a pleasant way to go.”

Kai glanced at his brother. “Kievan, this wasn’t the pl — ”

“Silence, Kai,” Kievan hissed. He turned his yellow eyes back on me. “So, what’ll it be?”

“Don’t do it, Stormi!” said Logan. “We’ll find another way to rescue Evelyn!”

“There is no other way!” Kievan hissed ferociously, his voice becoming harmonic and echoing with multiple voices at once. He cleared his throat, then his voice returned to normal. “Surrender your magic, or leave your friends to die.”

A lump formed in the back of my throat. This was the only way to save Evelyn. “If — if I give you my magic…will you promise to let them all go?”

“You have my word,” said Kievan. I wasn’t sure I trusted him, but I didn’t have any other choice.

I closed my eyes, taking a deep breath to steady my nerves. “Then…I accept your deal.”

“No!” Logan shouted.

Kievan rolled his eyes. “Quiet down, will you?” He waved his hand, and Logan and Ruth were suspended in shadow smoke as well. “Oh, they’re fine,” he said when he saw my worried look. “Like I said, I’ll let them all go after you fulfill your end of the deal.”

Kievan turned to his brother.“Would you care to do the honors, Kai?” he asked.

Without a word, Kai approached me slowly, his face expressionless. He held out his hand, shadow smoke swirling in his palm. I took his hand, bracing myself.

“Tolle eam magicae, tolle eam potentia.”

My palm began to heat up, then my arm, and my whole body as our clasped hands began to glow. A wind began to pick up around us.

“Tolle eam magicae, tolle eam potentia.”

I began to feel drained and dizzy. Pain washed over me as my whole body began to glow. The blue light surrounding me swirled into a sphere right where my heart was, and I had the uncanny feeling of something being pulled from my chest. I shut my eyes as Kai began to finish the spell.

“Tolle eam…”

Kai trailed off. He hesitated. And then he ripped his hand from mine.

I gasped as the orb of blue light flew back into my chest, the blue glow washing over me once again and fading into my skin.

“What are you doing?” Kievan asked incredulously. “Finish the spell!”

Kai muttered weakly, “I can’t do it.”

“What was that, little brother?” Kievan growled.

“I can’t — I won’t do it,” Kai said, straightening up and turning to his brother.

“Oh?” said Kievan, his voice a deadly calm. “And why is that?”

“This isn’t what we stand for. We’re fighting for peace, aren’t we?” Kai demanded. “Taking her magic won’t accomplish that. It will only make things worse.” He gazed at Kievan with sad eyes. “You were my brother once, Kievan. But now it’s like I barely know you.”

“So what?” Kievan asked, his eyes glowing an eerie yellow. “You’re betraying your family? You’re betraying me?”

Kai sighed. “I guess so.”

The shadows around Kievan began to shift, floating off the ground and swirling around him as he spoke in a demonic voice: “Wrong answer.”

My eyes widened. “Kai, look out!”

As Kievan held out his hand, shooting a column of deadly shadow smoke forward, I used my telekinesis to knock him off his feet. The smoke shot up at the ceiling, bouncing around the hall, then heading straight for Kievan. He quickly dissipated it just as it was inches away from him.

While he was distracted, Kai used his powers to free Evelyn, Joshua, Logan and Ruth from their shadow-smoke prisons. “Join hands,” he told us. “Quick!”

We hurriedly complied and each took each other’s hands. Ruth held up Joshua, who was just waking up, and Logan and I carried Evelyn’s unconscious form.
Kievan growled as he pushed himself to his feet. “Kai, don’t you dare — !”
Kai squeezed his eyes shut in focus. A gaping shadow portal appeared beneath our feet, and the six of us fell in just as Kievan was about to reach us.

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