Tesha must have spotted the on coming vehicle, too, as she throttled her motorcycle to top speed to avoid getting hit. The sedan narrowly missed us, while the bike couldn’t handle the sudden change in speed. I was thrown to the road and Tesha swerved, the bike falling on the side.
Bruised, I lifted myself from the hot road and looked to see Tesha pinned beneath her bike. Blood smeared the blacktop in her wake.
I leapt to my feet, pulling my backpack off my shoulders. I raced to Tesha as I whipped out my first aid kit. I dumped the contents onto the ground as Tesha groaned, “Get out of here.” I ignored her and found the amber potion in the middle of the supplies.
“A potion,” she gasped and struggled with her helmet straps. She looked at her pinned leg and up to me. I rushed to the bike, taking hold of the ghost-wind with my mind and gathering it closer to me. I directed it beneath the heavy machine as I took hold of the handlebars. I pushed while I used my levitation like a lever or a jack to aid my effort.
My muscles screamed and the pores of my skin felt raw from the effort. Tesha dragged herself free from the bike and popped open the potion as she mumbled every curses in a language I couldn’t understand. I dropped the bike and collapsed next to her, my shoulders, legs, and arms feeling numb, while pain seared my lower back.
I grimaced at the sight of Tesha’s leg, exposed by the torn pants. I swore I saw bone. She drank the potion. I tried not to gag when the wound began to heal, as if someone hit rewind on the injury to restore it. Tesha writhed and groaned as it closed up. However, it didn’t heal all the way and the dermis remained exposed, pink, shiny flesh that wept.
Tesha held the last drops of the potion to me. “Drink it, chey. You need it. You’re an idiot for staying,” she croaked, pain making her face dark. I looked her in the eye as I took it and downed what was left. I felt the pain and numbness ebbing away enough to let me think clearly.
It was then I noticed the warlocks surrounding us. Traffic had come to a complete stop around us, people out of their cars to see what was going on. Someone had lost a hubcap, which had rolled in the middle of the intersection between me and the sedan. There were four black elves around us and a woman next to the black vehicle.
She was not human, this woman with paper-white skin and silk-white hair. Unlike her black elf counterparts, she had a normal face and body. However, behind her long, pointed ears, were spires of bone jutting up and behind her was a long, spiny, thin tail that whipped the air and ended in a point. She took a step forward, her smoke-blue lips parting to smirk. “Williamson, by the power of the Department of Arcane-Science, I am here to arrest you. Don’t make this harder than it has to be.” I saw a flash of fangs as she spoke.
Time slowed down and everything came into focus. My mind calmed down, the world slowing to a halt, and I felt at peace. Things looked sharper, as if seeing the world for the first time.
[I am here,] a voice announced. It cut and strengthened the peace in my mind all at once. A roar split the air a second before white light poured down on the elves. Fire hotter than the sun.
The elves maneuvered out of the fire’s reach and dashed behind the sedan as they pulled out their guns. The white elf, however, leapt for me in one powerful lunge. Calm and collected, I wrapped the ghost-wind around my arms, wound up, and punched the air between us in one powerful shot of levitation.
The elf barely dodged it in a spin and I clipped her in the shoulder, sending her speeding past me and off course by inches. I threw myself aside, glad Tesha was working on getting the bike upright as I fell where she had been. Her blood was dry and sticky, caking my pants and hands. I grimaced and tried to focus on the action.
“Lyric!” called Tesha behind me and I looked to see her mounted on the bike. She motioned frantically for me to join her.
[Look out,] Song called out and looked to see the White Elf with something in her hand. She tossed it with all her might and I batted it side with my magic. The talisman whistled as it shot into the halted traffic and a thick fog enveloped the street, like a wall of vapor. The elf pulled out a bulb-shaped potion – this one bright red with something at the top – and raced forward to meet me at incredible speed. Adrenaline made time slow again.
I glanced at my dragon occupied with the elves and noticed the hubcap on the ground. I grabbed it with my magic like an extendable hand, and looked at the elf. I whipped the hubcap around and hit her square in the face. She went flying into the fog with a crash of metal and glass. An explosion sounded somewhere beyond.
Tesha revved her engine to remind me she was there and I turned to join her.
[Please, wait,] Song begged. I saw the dragon – a million tiny motes of light vibrating in the shape of a dragon – facing me. He still looked frayed, his starry eyes heavy with exhaustion, and his head more like static. He lowered his nose, his fire hair flickering. I raced to him and hugged his big nose.
In a flash, his physical form materialized. Scales of shining opal cascaded into existence down his form, his red-sapphire mane and tail flowing forth. His breath was warm on my skin and his scales comforting. I looked up at him and found tears in his eyes.
We were complete. We were whole. Together at last. Those flowers inside my soul bloomed fully. [Song,] I whispered.
[Master, I’m sorry I’m late,] he sighed as he wilted before my eyes, his scales fogging up with a yellow tint and his hair sagging about his head. His horns, matching red-sapphire, turned dark.
“You’re on time, actually,” I replied with a short chuckle.
He wrinkled his brow and a look of determination formed on his face. He picked me up with his huge paw and placed me on the bike behind Tesha. I lifted my backpack to me off the asphalt and left the first aid kit.
Tesha turned her bike to leave. Song used his levitation to lift several cars from the traffic around us and pin the elves with them. He squeezed his form into the form of a white and red bird to follow us.
Into the fog, Tesha kept her bike on the sidewalk. Thankfully, the fog was small, but it was so thick and silent that the noise beyond was a little disorienting. Cars honked and people were shouting for movement. Tesha stayed on the sidewalk, honking to warn the people. Trash cans, signs, and newsstands were knocked over in order to avoid getting under the motorcycle’s tires.
Song landed on my shoulder and slumped there, his little bird form trembling. I tried not to think of how much pain he must have endured to find me as I held him in place with my free hand. I kept my other arm around Tesha.
We swept into an alleyway, which took us left and right and a few more turns before letting us out into a street untouched by the skirmish. Tesha weaved between the cars like a needle through a tapestry, doing her best to blend in with the traffic.
Speaking of needles, my hands, arms, and legs felt as if someone threaded every pore with string and ran it back and forth until they were raw. It was like a sunburn, only deeper. Every muscle movement hurt and I only held tight to my companion. I heard Tesha yell over the motorbike engine, “Hold on!” I only managed to nod.
Tesha drove us through street after street and alleyway after alleyway. I no longer could keep track of where we had been or where we were. Finally, we arrived at an enormous cathedral, a gaudy relic among the sleek designed buildings around it. The facing was faded sepia, with water stained gargoyles watching from their lofty spots at the edges.
The biker pulled the motorcycle into the narrow alley between the cathedral and the small butcher shop. There were two men at the back of the alley, too preoccupied with arguing to notice us. I helped Tesha dismount as she cursed to herself in pain. Her leg was swollen, red, and wept a viscus yellow ooze. I had to push the kickstand down for her and wrap the safety chain around a pipe going into the building.
I let her put her arm around me, my dragon on Tesha’s other shoulder, as we made our way up the stairs and to the front door. Tesha groaned, “I can’t believe we made it. I hope everyone is safe inside. Something doesn’t feel quite right.”
As Tesha knocked, I scoped the street. There was a line outside a video shop, a full coffee shop, and a bookstore advertising that series I had started. Apparently, the Final Break series was popular enough to warrant some type of board game. I turned when I heard the door handle rattling.
A woman in what I instantly thought of as a teacher’s outfit opened the huge, oak door. When she saw Tesha, her face lit up and she screamed, “Tesha!” while running to her with arms wide open. Tesha groaned from the tackle and stumbled a bit to regain herself, but hugged the woman regardless. “Oh my stars, the girls are going to bust a seam when they hear you’re here! Oh!” She pulled back to pinch the woman’s cheeks.
I held Tesha by the arm to keep from getting hit by the woman’s embrace, but now the woman noticed me. “Oh,” she said and seemed to regard Tesha once more. “Oh. Oh no! You’re pale!” Her eyes looked down at the lame leg. She gasped, “Your leg!”
“Sister Hugh,” Tesha began, “we need help.”
“Come in – let me help you.” She motioned to me and I stepped aside to let her take up Tesha’s arm. I followed in silence into the huge foyer. I had to push the door closed with my whole body against it, as my arms refused any more commands.
I turned to follow them and found they were already gone. The foyer was empty. Here, the floors were tiled gray stone with walls of faded white stone bricks. A vase of freshly picked flowers provided a small whiff of beauty in the heavy scent of wood, paper, and rock. I glanced at the doors – one in opposite me next to the little table with the flowers, and two more that led down halls. I noticed a bench next to the entrance and sat down, eager for a rest.
Trembling, I started to take off my backpack and found Song still on my shoulder. He was now a miniature version of a dragon, his horns almost gone and his mane remarkably shorter. He opened his tired eyes and sighed, “So exhausted.”
“Why are you so small?”
“I had to take a form that was easier to maintain. Can I stay in your backpack?”
I nodded and opened it. I was surprised the Rabbit didn’t pop out, but then, he was likely preoccupied with wherever the pocket dimension led to. “You might meet a grumpy rabbit,” I warned as I picked up the dragon by the nape if the neck. His scales felt rough to the touch. He nodded and answered in my mind, [I will be watching through your eyes. If trouble arises …]
[Rest, please. No need in exerting yourself.] He dropped his head in defeat and I lowered him into the backpack.
I heard a whimper in front of me and looked to see a huge dog. At least, he looked like a dog in the face, but he was built like a lion. He had a huge mane of black hair, tan feet and legs, and a black and tan tail, which wagged behind him idly. He had floppy ears, intelligent and doughy eyes, but huge jowls. He approached me, his nose wiggling as his eyes met mine.
[Put out your hand to him, but keep your palm down. And keep your gaze down,] Song informed.
I did so, turning my face to the floor. The dog sniffed my hand, his nose and mouth wet. He licked my hand and put his head underneath it. “You’re a Dragon Master,” he said. “Welcome.”
I looked up and asked hopefully, “Are you a Valkyrian beast? I was told there was a Valkyrie here.”
He nodded and turned aside to show me his back. A huge, silver mark covered his back like a tribal tattoo. He asked, “Are you lost?”
“I came here with Tesha.”
“That’s why I smelled her on you,” he added and motioned me to follow with a glance and a flick of the tail. I stood, grabbing my bag, and followed him down the door on my right. He picked up his pace to a gallop and I ran to keep up with him, limping a little as I did. He led me down the hall, cut to the left to another hallway where we caught up with Sister Hugh and Tesha. I panted to catch my breath.
Sister Hugh glanced at me with a small grin. “Sorry dear. I thought you were with us,” she said.
I gulped for air and nodded with a wave of dismissal. My legs burned from the effort. We walked down the hall to what Sister Hugh explained was the medical wing of the monastery. The dog followed us diligently.
~ ~ ~
The police officer’s glazed eyes turned up to stare at the young man before his desk. He wore leather armor, like the sorcerer-officers the older man worked with. He still had a head full of hair and eyebrows, so he wasn’t a normal officer. The man closed the file he was working on and asked, “What can I do for you?”
The young man’s eyes flickered and he unfroze to lift a hand to show him his black metal Department of Arcane-Science badge. He said in an automatic tone, “I’m Special Agent August Cross with the Department of Arcane-Science. I’m here about the terrorist seen around the city. A young woman by the name of Williamson.”
“Ah,” said the officer as he leaned back in his chair. He sneered and asked, “You’re one of them, ain’t ya? Come to tear up our city some more?” The boy seemed clearly taken aback by this, his eyes frantically trying to come up with an answer from the officer’s features.
The mage in the desk next to him interjected, “What my partner means to say is: You need to speak with the police chief. She’s in her office back there – can’t miss it.”
August Cross nodded his appreciation to the sorcerer-officer and put his badge back inside his coat. The mage stood to lead him to where he needed to go, their outfits almost identical, except the mage had on a long-coat of thick leather, likely laced with enchantments galore.
The office pit was one of the many examples of his mentor’s accomplishments. For twenty years, magic and non-magic officers worked together in harmony to bring about peace and justice. For a few years, crime dropped, but it had recently seen a rise as criminals learned how to utilize magic for themselves.
August was glad he didn’t have to shave his hair and eyebrows, however, like the clean-shaven man in front of him. In fact, he was certain, the man didn’t even have hair on the back of his hands or fingers. It made him grateful he had the natural talent for magic.
The sorcerer-officer opened the door and announced, “Chief, another special agent is here about the terrorist.”
“Let him in,” ordered a woman’s voice. The mage stepped aside and August reached for his badge once more as he strode in.
The office smelled of nicotine and something else August couldn’t put his finger on. Two shelves flanked the desk facing the door and windows allowed the police chief to watch the pit behind them. The door closed and the chief looked up from her files, which piled her desk. She wore a business suit, which didn’t seem right on her rigid, tough figure. Her red hair was pulled back into a bun, which was already coming apart in tight, curled strands.
Her lips curled back into a half smirk and half a sneer as she asked, “You here to take those elves back to that hole you keep ’em in?”
“N-No, ma’am,” August replied.
“Then why’re you here?” She leaned back in her wooden chair, which squeaked in protest. “These elves have caused a major traffic jam, which wrecked several cars in the process. They’re costing us resources and money.”
August glanced at his badge and put it away to buy him thinking time. He found himself recalling what Thustra might do: use the police’s issue to his advantage. He came up with his reply, “I’m here about the female terrorist and I am seeking to end this mission as quick as possible. We don’t want anymore damage done to your city. In order to do this, I’m going to need equipment necessary to apprehend her.” His hands trembled and sweat.
She rocked in her chair for a moment as she thought. She frowned and stooped from her chair to march to the office exit. August held his breath and stepped aside, still sweating in his gloves.
“Lieutenant, show this boy to the evidence room. He says he needs equipment. Probably magical.” She stepped away from the door to allow the officer through and crossed her arms to watch him with a stern expression.
The lieutenant led August into the pit and to a door on the left, which opened into a hallway parallel with the pit. They passed under a sign pointing to a set door indicating the stairwell and the officer opened it. “After you, Mr. Sorcerer,” the man said as he motioned August through with a wave of the hand.
The young man tried to come up with something, but what came out was, “Thanks.”
The illumination talismans above filled the stairwell with a hypnotic buzzing sound as they trekked down to the basement. August began, “I was under the impression police stations had their own armory.” At least, the elves did in their headquarters.
“Oh, boy, you’ve been watching too many cop shows. We do, but nothing like what you’re looking for. We have the protocol weapons and jackets, but most of us have to buy our own extra firearms and even our own Kevlar.” He paused for a moment as they reached the basement level. “I’m … certain we have what you need in there.”
August raised an eyebrow, but said nothing further. The door to the evidence room had an orange sign on it with an appropriate label. The officer pulled out his wallet and whipped out a card. He slid it through the card reader next to the door and waited a few seconds as the red light at the top blinked. The reader beeped and a green light replaced the red.
The door opened to a room lined with crisscrossed bars. The hair on August’s neck raised, but he made himself calm down. Something about the way it looked like a cage unsettled him. On the other side of the small area was a man sitting at a window, reading a magazine on gardening. The man looked up and smiled. “Well, come to visit me?”
“Naw, why do you think we sent you down here?” the lieutenant teased. At least, the grins told August they were teasing one another. “Ah, Jacob, this here young man says he needs a ‘particular weapon.’ What was it, now?”
“I need a sniper rifle with magic augmentation – er, I mean ~”
“Son, I know what you mean,” said the guard as he put his gardening magazine down. “Any special augments?”
“A targeting glyph with a scope glyph as well.” Standard for most magical guns.
The man nodded and waggled a finger at him with a wink, “I gotcha.” He disappeared behind the shelves beyond the cage.
The young man fiddled with his gloves, pulling them up a little tighter. He felt the lieutenant studying him. Part of him hated having left Thustra. This whole socializing thing was so new and nerve-wracking, August thought he might collapse if he had to interact with another human being for another hour. He wasn’t sure he could keep up the facade much longer, either. His mind could only predict so many with scenarios and only so quickly.
The guard returned with a case in his arms and a tag at the top left. He groaned as he put it into something beneath the counter. August jumped when the wall opened to reveal a bin where he had put it. “We’ll be glad to be rid of this thing,” the guard sighed.
August hefted the case from the bin and placed it on the floor. He glanced at the sticker label at the top, which looked like someone wrote in chicken scratch. He popped the case open and his breath caught at the sight.
“A beauty, eh? That’s the M200 Intervention with a 2500 yard range – that magical scope there adds another hundred or so. It’s 29 pounds of pure power. Oh, and you’ll have to put it together,” the guard added.
“Why do you want to get rid of it?” August asked, his curiosity overriding his manners.
“That gun there was used to shoot up a military base,” informed the lieutenant. “Some overzealous Zallist. Wasn’t a good day.”
August paused and glanced at the two men. Their faces were grim around the edges. He turned again to the gun to examine it. He was glad the two men couldn’t see his grin and know he was salivating.
It was more of a work of magic-craft art than a weapon of destruction. The barrel was covered in some kind of design, which August made an educated guess was some kind of alarm glyph, though he wasn’t sure what it was meant to activate. It was carved into the aluminum barrel with such precision, he wondered if it was done by computer. There was an optional silencer, too. The gun itself had a hexagonal, copper talisman on the butt, which was standard for any gun for a mage. It turned the weapon into a conduit for magic, similar to the glyphs on the sorcerer-officers’ skin. The scope also had a targeting and scope glyph, but on either side of the eyepiece. At the top was a smaller version of the conduit talisman.
August picked up the scope and peered through it like a telescope. The eyepiece sensed his magic and activated as he was able to see through the walls of the evidence locker. He looked up to the stairwell and into the police pit, rotating the eyepiece to focus it. The elves were in the police chief’s office, and looking pretty banged up, too.
“Pretty nifty, eh?” asked the officer. He pulled the bin back and pushed it out again. “Here’s the some of the bullets we confiscated.” August placed the scope back in its slot and grabbed the box.
There were seventy-two bullets in the box, with space to spare. August picked up one – they were longer than his index finger. What was more interesting was the fact each and every bullet had identical glyphs engraved on them. He squinted to see any planetary symbols and spotted the activation symbol, which matched the one on the barrel, as well as another symbol that he didn’t recognize at first.
Hot needles prickled down his back as August realized the bullets themselves were spark talismans, activated by passing through the barrel. Once through, the bullets would activate a sensor mark when the bullet hit a target, similar to a usual spark talisman with a sensor mark that knew when it contacted with oxygen. In other words, shoot bullet, bullet hit target, and target catches on fire.
“Those are incineration bullets,” said the guard, his voice undercut with grief. “We fought that sniper for hours.”
“There’s seventy-two bullets,” August pointed out. The guard nodded. “I have more that we found at the gunman’s house. Someone was making them for him. We never found out who.”
“I’ll take the rest of the bullets off your hands.”
August watched the man leave as he realized with cold satisfaction these were perfect for shooting elves.
Minutes later, on the ground level, the lieutenant said, “I hope you catch this terrorist. They’re getting younger and younger, ain’t they?”
August said nothing. How was he to know? Besides, could these Riders really be ‘terrorists’? How much of what Thustra told him was true?
The officer seemed to think his silence was permission to continue speaking, as he continued, “Yeah, them Riders are downright evil. Destroying that university in the seventies. Its a good thing that Arcane-Sciences man came around when he did and stopped them. No telling where we’d be.”
August gripped the gun case. If Thustra was correct, he was joining a group who meant harm to the world. If his nursemaid was correct, he was going to help a group of people who only meant to help and were throwing themselves into the fire to keep everyone safe.
Either way didn’t exactly spell out ‘safety’ or ‘security’. Thustra’s empathetic face came to mind, reminding him he wasn’t necessarily guaranteed safety there, either.
The elves exited the chief’s office as August said his thanks to the lieutenant. The white elf approached him as he turned to leave and August was glad his balaclava hid most of his face.
The four smelled of ozone, melted aluminum, and burned flesh. The White Elf wore black, bloodied bandages that covered the lower half of her face, while the entire left side was black and purple from bruising. Her eye was nearly swollen shut. Her spindly tail flicked like she was an irritated cat. The others had splints on arms or held themselves in stiff positions to keep from aggravating broken ribs. They all looked miserable, even by elf standards.
The White Elf looked August up and down as they strode for the exit. She thought to August, [You know, that old man is looking for you. He knows you escaped. He’s livid.]
[Well, I ~]
[Save it.] Her eye narrowed. [Our allegiance is to the Dark Commander only, not some idiot human playing messiah. Besides, its nice to see him squirm.] She paused and leaned over to sniff him. August tried not to shy away to avoid showing weakness. [And I’d check my things if I were you. You have a tracking glyph on you somewhere.]
He blanched. [Oh. Thanks.]
[Give that Thustra hell. We’re getting sick of him bossing us around. Ow.] She touched the side of her face with what might have been a grimace. [That bitch nailed my face with a hubcap. Be careful. She’s developing her powers quicker than anticipated.] She paused as they stepped onto the stairs leading down to the sidewalk. [One more thing: The suspect was last seen heading to a monastery where we believe more Riders might reside. Keep your guard up. I’ll lie and tell him you’re one of our men that didn’t return and that I saw you headed for a port or something. He’ll likely send more elves for you, though.]
[Thank … you.]
[Don’t. I like the game.] Something like a smile appeared in her eye. She grabbed his arm and the image of a map appeared in his mind, with an address circled. The monastery. He felt her rummaging through his mind for a split second before withdrawing. [Nice gun, by the way.] Her eye was fresh with thrill. She whipped her paper-white hair as she turned to the parked Sedan and followed her men inside.
August swallowed and recalled the address as he lifted a hand to hail a cab.