I raced to the edge of the courtyard. I stood on the ledge, my eyes desperately scanning the fog. A faint voice nearby, frail and soft, called out to me.
I spotted Heidi hanging onto a large stone jutting out at the side of the cliff. She had one hand clinging onto it with all her fingers and the other arm swung loose. I knelt and extended my arm with my wand.
“Hang on, Heidi!”
She swung her loose arm and reached out for my wand. I pulled that arm as much as I could until she could plant her feet onto the rocks at the cliffside. I pulled more of her up onto the ledge. When she was steady enough, I pulled her by both arms and into me. I sat on the floor of the courtyard, embracing her as I felt her ragged breathing slowly soothe.
She closed her eyes and counted, the way her grandmother told her—a story from her childhood that she shared with me once. “One, two, three, four…”
“You’re all right,” I whispered into her hair.
When her breathing calmed, she pulled herself away from me and we locked eyes. That was when a Virtuoso stumbled over, his voice trembling as he called for us.
“Sir Tristan! Heidi!”
Heidi stood up first. “Johnny?”
“Where were you—“ he caught his breath. Then he flailed his arms. “I was looking all over for you two! Wynona sent me here to look for you.”
The statue was the first thing that caught my eye. The large stone Eagle stood erected in the middle of the courtyard despite breaking asunder just moments before. I turned to the concrete landslide that was caused by the Necromancer. Nothing. The walls of the South wing were still in tact.
“We’ve been here, Johnny. We’ve been fighting the Necromancer,” Heidi explained, pointing her finger to the statue.
“Heidi,” I interjected. “The courtyard is untouched.”
Heidi turned. When she noticed, her face turned quizzical.
Johnny shook his head. “What are you talking about? The Necromancer has been attacking the North wing this whole time!”
“Is she there now, Virtuoso?” I asked, dusting myself off and striding to the direction of the North wing.
Johnny stared at me like I was insane. “Sir, that’s what I’m here to tell you. The Necromancer and her army won. She came to capture Wynona.”
A short silence before Heidi spoke, “Rose tricked us. I think she sent a doppelgänger to divert our attention while casting the lateral phenomenon spell.”
“That’s why the courtyard is untouched,” I muttered. Then I turned to Johnny. “We’ll head to the North wing.”
I teleported Heidi and myself there. She said couldn’t summon her energy.
Do it, I remembered Rose saying to Heidi, use your dark magic the way you did just now. That’s all you can feel inside you, isn’t it?
She did seem downcast ever since the poison. I would ask her later.
When we arrived at the North wing, we found ourselves in the middle of where the building once stood. Now it was just a heap of fallen debris. A number of Spellcasters searched through the rubble for anybody they knew. An arm hung loosely from under a pile of bricks. I moved them away to uncover a young face—a Neophyte. I dragged her body out of the rubble and laid her at the side. Heidi gasped.
I turned to Johnny. “What happened here?”
His broad shoulders slumped. “The Necromancer brought her fiercest army, sir. The djinns were stronger than the usual kind and that blonde Vampire threw some sort of fireballs, blowing up whatever they landed on. Many others were summoned to help but also did not make it. Half of the students in the Academy we were wiped out. And out of the twenty-two Virtuosos that came and defended, only five of us survived.
“After almost everyone was dead, the five of us and Wynona faced the Necromancer and the dark Vampire lady with djinns surrounding us. The dark Vampire lady carried a sickle in her hand, slashing and cutting us but she was still no match for Wynona. Two of the Virtuosos then died and the other two are grievously injured. Wynona took on the Necromancer who ended the battle just by crushing her fist. That’s when Wynona asked me to look for you and Heidi.”
I let out a long sigh as I laid my eyes on the complete destruction of the North wing. “Send word to all the Virtuosos and Adepts in the Worldly realm. Operate search-and-rescue; look for all the injured that could be hidden under the debris. Find the fatalities as well.”
Heidi was kneeling beside a body, not too far from where we were. “Johnny!”
We headed over and Johnny immediately broke down. He knelt beside a female Virtuoso, cradling her as he wailed. Heidi shed a tear and squeezed his shoulder. I recognised the Virtuoso’s face but could not recall her name. I had never once witnessed Johnny fall apart the way he did.
“Heidi,” I called. She turned to face me, teary-eyed. A couple of other Spellcasters approached Johnny to help him. “We must go.”
Heidi left him to the Spellcasters, two Adepts, and followed me. In a small voice, she asked, “Where are we going?”
“Back to my office. I have some questions.”
* * *
I leaned against my desk as I stood in front of it to face her. She looked fragile, all of a sudden. I folded my arms.
“Take a seat, Heidi.”
Her hazel eyes bore on me, holding her gaze. I waited for her to do as I instructed but she remained standing where she was. I repeated myself.
“I need you to take a seat.”
“Why?” She asked, a trace of defiance in her tone. I had known her long enough to recognise that her disobedience against direct instructions was a product of fear and a defence mechanism. “What is this about, Tristan?”
I sighed and waited for her. Visibly irritated, Heidi sat on the chair and eyed me curiously as well as rebelliously.
“Is this about what Rose said?”
“What did she say?” I questioned. She looked a little stunned.
“About me using dark magic?”
I nodded. And waited.
Heidi inhaled and exhaled slowly. She gathered her thoughts before explaining. I had known her for two years and never would I imagine her to have done what she did. Or what Dean Ryans did.
“Robert died in front of me, Tristan. This...thing in me is like a reflex—it churns itself without my control. Especially when I’m in danger,” she replied earnestly.
“So you resorted to dark magic?”
“It was survival. I would have died if I didn’t counter her spell.”
“So that’s how you were able to break out of the magic grasp,” I uttered. “By using the dark energy, you’re able to retaliate.”
She nodded. “It felt like the only way—“
“No, Heidi! Dark magic isn’t something to be meddled with!”
Her hazel eyes darted back and forth. She laid her hands in her lap, her neck stretching to look up to me. All I saw in front of me was her small frame in the chair with her feet together. Her black hair in her eyes as she watched me, waiting for my next words.
I moved away from my desk and knelt before her. I cupped her face between my hands, our faces inches away from each other.
“It’s growing inside you. You will get yourself killed, Heidi. I cannot let that happen,” I said, my voice a little shaky.
“That’s why I didn’t use my magic just now,” she said, her voice soft and low, almost a whisper.
I nodded, my eyes tracing her face. Something in me wanted to memorise her features.
I brushed her hair away from her eyes with my fingers. “The stronger the dark energy becomes, the Necromancer will want you more than ever. Promise me you won’t use it anymore, Heidi.”
I sighed and stared into her eyes. Tears were welling up as she struggled to fight them back. Her lips quivered but she bit them. Heidi never took anything seriously, and almost always spoke in jest and sarcasm, but she seemed forlorn and downcast with whatever storm that was brewing inside. A small part of her childhood slipped out again—once before was during the battle against Rose—vulnerable and lost. I realised now that I had never seen her cry.
A knock on my door. I tore myself away from her and answered it. An Adept stood outside my office, her brown eyes bore on me as soon as I opened the door.
“I have a telegram for you, Sir Tristan,” the young lady informed as she handed me a piece of paper.
I received it and thanked her before she turned to leave. I read the written message in an expressive cursive handwriting:
Meet us at the Lair. Bring no one.
I pocketed the telegram into my coat. I shut the office door and returned to Heidi.
“Stay here,” I instructed. “Get some rest until I return.”
“Where are you going?” She asked, no trace of her tears from before.
Heidi did not object or argue. She nodded and leaned against the chair and closed her eyes. I planted a kiss on her forehead before I summoned the portal to meet with the Vampire King.
* * *
I stepped into the Lair. It seemed empty with the exception of Brian, the elite Vampire. He greeted me with a slight bow as I approached him.
“Lord Voltaire and Vicky are in there,” he said, pointing to a room with a double door.
I scanned the Lair. Silence swept the place like they were hushed. I had never ventured anywhere outside of the Lair within the Underworld but I knew that there would usually be Vampires walking about. Brian’s face seemed sallower somehow, even his shoulders were narrower than the last time I saw him when we worked on PN-16 cases together.
He ushered me in and I was led into the room with a long table and a fireplace at the end of it. Lord Voltaire was seated in front of it, at the helm of the table, arms resting on the surface of the carven polished wood, red eyes expecting my entrance. Vicky sat on his right, her long ivory fingers interwoven. She did not lift her gaze as I stood by the door and Brian exited to leave us alone. I nodded at the high-ranking Vampire and her King as I took my seat at the other end of table.
“Thank you for joining us on such short notice,” Lord Voltaire greeted with a slight upturn of his lips. “How is our dear Heidi?”
“She is resting,” I replied.
Vicky continued to avoid my eyes..
“I heard about the attack at the Academy,” Lord Voltaire spoke in his rich baritone. “She did the same to my Vampires.”
“I am sure you did not ask me to come here to offer condolences,” I said impatiently. I knew he was beating around the bush. “Pray tell, O’ King of the Void, why did you summon me here?”
Lord Voltaire’s expression did not change, as it rarely did. He always had a calmness about him, and he always maintained it. I had known him for a long time, and he was never one to make small talk.
“I can feel Heidi’s dark energy growing stronger,” he finally said, fixating his red eyes on me. “And we know that the Necromancer wants it. Has Heidi spoken of this, Sir Tristan?”
I remained silent.
Lord Voltaire, knowing that I would not betray her in any shape or form, continued, “Your silence is an affirmative, my good Sage.”
Vicky shut her eyes. She lowered her face, her hair falling in front of her eyes.
“What of it?” I finally asked. “She made a promise to me that she would not use it.”
The King of Vampires softened his gaze. “When my Lair was overrun by the djinns and dark Vampires, I was tempted to use the dark energy that is in me too. The same one that I got from Dean Ryans. If a thousand-year-old Vampire King has thoughts of churning the forbidden energy, what then a mortal?”
“She has proven that she is able to separate it from herself,” I retorted, my voice low and harsh.
Lord Voltaire continued in his soft approach. “My dear friend, Heidi’s powers will become stronger than the Necromancer herself. We do not know how strong she can get, but that energy is still a part of Synto. If we leave her be, we risk her turning into Dean Ryans, but even stronger.”
“Heidi will do nothing of that sort,” I felt the heat inside me.
Vicky did not move. Lord Voltaire tilted his head, “Surely, as a Sage, you are aware of this risk? Our duty is to protect the three realms and Heidi’s dark energy is beginning to threaten them.”
“What do you suggest?” Uneasiness was gripping me by the throat. I did not like where this was going.
Lord Voltaire inhaled and exhaled through his nose. He shut his eyes and opened them again, boring his red irises on me. There was a trace of sadness and guilt as he spoke.
“I have looked at every possibility and the only way to stop this is for me to have that dark energy removed from her.”
I shot up from my chair, my fingers gripping my wand and my Sage’s ruby started to glow. “That will kill her, Voltaire!”
Vicky lifted her face, eyes wide in surprise. There were tears in them. “Tristan, please! This is a difficult decision for all of us but…it needs to be done.”
Lord Voltaire added carefully. “Sir Tristan, she is a dear friend of mine too. But this is the only way.”
I pointed my wand to him, the energy in me swirling like it never had before. I could see Vicky’s slight movement under the table—possibly readying her dagger.
“Do not make me do something I will regret, Lord Voltaire,” I gritted my teeth.
“Tristan,” Vicky warned. “Listen to us. I know it’s hard to hear this but she is our friend too. I love her too. But we need to save the realms.”
Lord Voltaire eyed my wand. Then his red eyes flickered to me, a look of sheer pity. “You’re letting your emotions cloud your judgment, my friend. Please—“
I had to channel the current somewhere. I pointed my arm behind the Vampire King as white flames shot out towards the fireplace. The flames in it grew large, reducing the firewood into ashes. My ruby was the brightest I had seen it. Lord Voltaire startled as Vicky threw her arms to her face as a reflex. I lowered my hand as soon as the flames died down and the room grew dark.
I summoned a portal back to the Academy and wagged my finger at the two Vampires. “If you go near her, I will not hesitate to obliterate both of you.”