Click here for the post on this blog that Part 15 was originally posted on. This part isn't on Wizard101.com yet. This is the final part in The Tale of Sierra WinterBreeze.
The Tale of Sierra WinterBreeze - Part 15
“It’s… big,” Hunter noted.
“Yeah. It is.” I tried not to roll my eyes.
“And… there are so many doors! Where could they go?”
“I don’t know, and believe me, you don’t want to,” I responded sulkily. “Now focus. We have a mission here.”
His face darkened with disappointment, and I regretted saying that. Every single one of the Seekers had been here before… except Hunter. If examining the whole place and pointing out useless details kept his mind off the sickening task at hand, who was I to stop him?
Silence surrounded our group of seven once more.
“Um, you know,” I said to break the tension, “I’m a bit surprised we didn’t get more of a, I don’t know… welcome? Or, uh, not welcome. The opposite. Shouldn’t there be some kind of resistance? Like Skeletal Warrior guards attempting to capture and/or destroy us? Or an undead army bent on our annihilation? Or tons of traps set up to hinder our progress? Or hordes of dark magical creatures? Or Mary? Or Li–”
“Sierra,” Mark said sternly, cutting me off, “calm down. Do you want to attract attention?”
I realized my ramblings had increased in volume with every word. I took a shaking breath. “No,” I agreed. “Not really.”
“But Sierra is right,” Sydney piped up. "Why is there no one here? This place seems so empty.”
“Exactly!” I said eagerly.
“Plus we have no clue where we’re going,” Victoria added.
“Exactly,” I sighed.
We had been exploring the lair for around a half hour now. Not much of the scenery had changed – it was just red and black walls, doors, walls, doors, walls… and so on. And where exactly were we supposed to go? We were so, totally, completely lost, and there was nothing we could do about it.
Suddenly, behind us there was the undeniable sound of a rusty door creaking open. Almost simultaneously, we whipped around, ready for anything.
Instead of imminent danger, we found a young girl, just barely older than my sister, staring at us with a shocked and even terrified expression.
“Um… hi?” I said.
“Please don’t tell!” she cried, sinking to her knees. “I wasn’t doing anything bad. Promise!”
“Tell who? Tell what?”
She looked up at us, and I saw the surprise in her eyes grow. “You’re not… you’re not from here… are you?”
She stood up and held out a hand. “I’m Jessica. Just Jessica – I don’t have a last name.”
I stared at her hand for a few seconds before realizing I was supposed to take it. “Okay. Um, I’m Sierra WinterBreeze.”
Jessica took a step back. “Really?” she whispered in awe. “But then… you are…”
This was going way too fast. “Look, I have no clue what’s going on,” I said. “What are you doing here? What did you not want us to tell?”
She took a deep breath. “You’re in the lair of the powerful Malistaire Drake,” she whispered, “although I’m sure you knew that. People don’t just wander in here by accident. And… I’m not supposed to be here…”
“Of course not,” I exclaimed. “You should be in Wizard City, safe like everyone else. We’re going to take care of Malistaire.”
“No,” she said sadly. “I can’t. I’m trapped here.”
I didn’t speak for a second. This really hadn’t been what I was expecting to visit Malistaire’s lair – to be faced with a girl that a) didn’t have a last name, b) seemed to know who I was, c) wouldn’t tell us what she was doing here exactly and d) was seriously starting to scare me a bit. She wasn’t creepy or anything – actually, she appeared to be really nice. But anyone running around in the lair of Malistaire in – did I forget to mention – Death school robes… it was slightly suspicious. Okay, extremely suspicious.
“You’re… trapped,” I echoed, scrutinizing her.
“Yes,” she confirmed.
I continued staring. “Planning on telling us why anytime soon?”
“I’m sorry, but I don’t know if I should. Just me being here, talking to you, is dangerous. I’m going to be in so much trouble if I’m caught, but…” I was stunned when she did a small curtsey in my direction. “You’re my only hope, Sierra WinterBreeze. You and the other Seekers of Light. There are a lot of people depending on you, so please don’t fail us.”
Speechless, I glanced over my shoulder at my friends. Their expressions ranged from disbelief to shock to fear. She knew about the Seekers…
“Jessica,” Vanessa said finally, breaking the silence. “Do I know you from somewhere?”
She looked confused. “There’s no way you could. Why?”
To be honest, I almost though she looked familiar, too…
“Nothing,” Vanessa murmured. “I thought you looked… a bit like…” She cast a glance to her left, right where a very uncomfortable Mark was standing.
With a start, I realized what she was getting at. I stepped back, making sure I could examine both Mark and Jessica at the same time. Their hair color was an unmistakable match of midnight black, and their eyes both a deep, dark brown. Even the shape of their build was the same.
“Mark?” I began.
“I don’t know,” he quickly responded to my unspoken question. He stared into Jessica’s eyes that were identical to his own. “Who are you, really? Why do you look like me?”
Jessica was taken aback. “I… I don’t know my family. I don’t know.”
Well. This was a rather interesting discovery…
“At least give us some answers,” I demanded. “Let’s start with the obvious. Why are you in the lair of the most evil man currently alive in the Spiral?”
She took a deep breath. “I… um… work for him.”
“You – wait, what?” I shrieked. I shot a glance at the Seekers behind me, and I was proud to discover that they had wordlessly raised their wands, prepared for the worst. Then I mentally scolded myself for not doing the same. I reached for Megan’s wand, pointing it at Malistaire’s minion.
“No!” she shouted, putting out her empty palms in defense. “It’s not like that!”
“Then you have approximately one minute to tell me what it is like,” I growled, “before you become an ice statue.”
She began to cry again, startling me into lowering my guard. “Please… don’t hurt me…”
“Um, sorry?” I said, feeling much worse than I was letting on. I’d made the poor girl cry. What was wrong with me?
But she was Malistaire’s minion… I couldn’t feel sympathetic.
“Explain,” I ordered.
“I-I’m not supposed to be here,” she stammered. “I went against orders. We were all supposed to report to Mistress Mary half an hour ago, right when you guys entered. B-But I came out here. I d-don’t know what I was thinking. I just felt that I had to come and see you, to help you somehow.”
I listened to her words intently, allowing silence to permeate the air even after she finished. I could tell she was trying to cease her tears – her voice got quieter with every word. By the time her explanation was through, she had completely stopped, though her body still visibly shook.
“So,” I began, “uh… you said you meant to… help us?”
She nodded wordlessly.
I nodded back, finally making a decision. “All right, Jessica! I have a job for you. If you want to gain our trust, then you can be our guide through this crazy labyrinth that Malistaire calls a lair.”
She gasped. “N-n-no! I can’t do that! They’ll see me!”
“Then I’d have no choice but to ensure you don’t let Malistaire know where we are,” I said menacingly – even though it was just a bluff.
Jessica looked at me for a second more before sighing. “Okay. I said I would help, so I guess I should offer my assistance in any way I can. Where did you want to go?”
“To Malistaire, of course.”
Her eyes widened. "But," she squeaked, her voice small, "he'll... he'll kill me if he sees me." She shut her eyes and moaned. "I should have known that's what you needed..."
I let out a huff. It felt cruel to force this girl to do something that she was clearly terrified of – it was hard enough for me to be here. Could I really involve a bystander?
The answer was yes. I could, and I had to. This was a golden opportunity – we'd been lost for a while now, with no sense of direction, but the perfect guide had practically fallen in our laps. I needed her help. She knew where to go, and we had to reach Malistaire as soon as possible.
"Look," I said, dropping my menacing facade, "we really, really need your help, Jessica. And there's no way I can let you go at this point – even if you don't intend to betray us, you never know what... what they might do to you if they find out you were with us. Isn't it almost safer to lead the way?"
She opened her eyes and stared at me, her frightened gaze meeting mine.
"We'll keep you safe if you come," I promised. "I won't let Malistaire hurt you."
She considered this for a moment and looked over my shoulder at the rest of the Seekers. There was a moment of silence.
At long last, she turned back to me. "Alright. I'll take you as far as I can. Follow me."
She started off down the hallway. I motioned for my friends to follow as we allowed ourselves to be blindly led on by this mysterious Necromancer.
Rowan and Jessica led our procession. They seemed to be getting along quite well. The rest of us, however, ignored Jessica; I’m sure they were all as distrustful of her as I was. Jessica acted like she knew where she was going, but how could we be sure? This might be a trap for all we knew.
Eventually we stopped when we reached the end of a long hallway that appeared to be a dead end.
Apparently, however, it wasn’t. Jessica skipped toward the wall, then reached out and pushed hard on it. To our surprise, the wall slid away, revealing a person-sized tunnel, just barely large enough for us to squeeze into.
“This leads to Dragon’s Roost,” Jessica explained. “It’s the main part of the lair, but totally separate from this one. This is kind of just where Malistaire keeps prisoners and stuff. You can’t teleport from this area to the other, because we have to go outside first, and his spells prevent that from happening. I heard a rumor that Malistaire set up lots of dark creatures to deter you from getting in, so you’ll have to be careful once we’re out of this part of the lair and into the other one.” After that lengthy clarification, Jessica disappeared into the tunnel. Rowan followed her immediately. Everyone else hesitated, looking at one another questioningly.
I shrugged. “Rowan seems to trust her. Let’s just go in and see what happens. I mean, she’s just one girl. What could she do? There are seven of us and one of her.”
Most nodded in uneasy agreement, but I couldn’t help but hear Victoria mutter, “It isn’t Jessica I’m worried about.”
Silently, I was thinking the same thing.
Mark entered first, followed by Sydney, Victoria, and Vanessa. Hunter paused before the door, looking into it uncertainly.
“It will be fine,” I assured him.
“Yeah. I know. I’ve got you and Sydney and everyone else here, anyway.” He grinned. “Except Sydney’s more likely to argue with me and cause problems. And then you’ll be busy either ignoring us or screaming at us to stop.”
“Pretty much,” I responded. I decided not to mention that he initiated as many disputes as his sister.
Then I noticed he still wasn’t moving. “Um, Hunter? What’s wrong?”
He sighed. “I’m nervous.”
“And you have a pretty decent reason to be.”
“Yeah, but… I’m the lowest level.”
I blinked at the mention of level. Really… I hadn’t even considered that little factor. We weren’t a posse of Grandmasters, and what had Mark told me? That some wizards went in to fight Malistaire and never came back? Yes, that was it. Not that it calmed me one bit.
I scrutinized Hunter, trying to determine his level from his clothing. “Level?”
“Twenty-six.” I let out a hiss between my teeth. Dang. Compared to the rest of us, he was a low level. It wasn’t what I had expected at all – for some reason, I imagined the group to be at least Magus.
Besides, it wasn’t like we were much better. We had no Grandmasters at all – Mark was close at level 49, but he was our highest. Victoria and I were also Masters, but I just barely – exactly level 40. I didn’t even know Colossus yet.
“Don’t worry. Rowan’s our healer, right? She’ll help you if you’re hurt. And I’ll shower you with Tower Shields if you want. Now come on! We don’t want to be left behind.”
But even as I said that, I turned back to the doorway in the wall –
Just in time to see if closing.
“…Um, one second,” I said slowly. “Did it just… are you seeing what I am, Hunter?”
“I just saw our only way out closing off!” he shouted, the panic I had been prolonging already evident in his voice. “What do we do? We have to do something!”
“Calm down,” I ordered, although even my voice shook. “Let’s just think about–”
“Sydney!” He started pounding on the wall with his fists, screaming. “Guys! You left us! Wait!”
“Hunter, shut up!” I growled, putting a hand over his mouth as his eyes widened in shock. “I don't care what that other girl said. We're on our own now, and I’d kind of like to keep it that way – I don’t want to attract the wrong kind of attention.”
He stopped struggling in my grasp and nodded slowly, so carefully I wondered if he even realized he was doing it. I let go of him cautiously, ready to jump in if he screamed again.
But he didn’t. Instead, I heard a voice that was too deep to be his – but I recognized it nonetheless. “It is time for your final test, Sierra WinterBreeze.”
I let out a long sigh as Hunter spoke up. “Is that the same guy who told Mark and me about the Shadow Beasts?”
“Unfortunately,” I replied.
The voice began, “I know you disliked your encounters with the Shadow Beasts–”
“’Disliked’ doesn’t even begin to cover it.”
The mysterious voice refused to become upset with me. “Still, there is one more thing you must do.”
“Says one who desperately needs your help.”
I faltered. “Wh-who? It’s not one of the other Seekers, is it?”
“No. It is me.”
My face hardened, but my mind was racing. Help? What kind of help would a disembodied, anonymous voice need from me? “What would I have to do?”
“Sierra,” Hunter whispered next to me. “We still have to find Sydney and everyone else.”
I nodded, but I mostly listened to the voice as it continued, “Do you recall our first meeting, Sierra?”
“I think so,” I replied.
“Then you remember when I said you would not see me until we faced one another in battle?”
“Yes… wait. I think I see where this is going.”
“Now is time to break our friendship, Sierra, and fight me. Be warned that I will not go easy on you simply because of our previously amiable relationship.”
“But… why? Why do we have to fight?”
“I cannot tell you that yet. Come find me, and I can explain everything to you.”
I looked back at Hunter, who did not look pleased that I had chosen to listen to the voice instead of him. “Can he help? I asked.
“Sierra…” Hunter began.
“I suppose. But no others.”
Hunter bit his lip in frustration.
I gave him one sympathetic glance, but I would need his assistance. I again spoke to the voice. “And my other friends?”
“They will meet up with you after our duel is over. The condition they find you in will depend on its outcome.”
A part of me wondered why I was even considering it. Logically, none of this even made sense. How would fighting him help him? What was this all for?
“What if I refuse?”
“Then go ahead and try to find a way out on your own. Some trapdoors are more secure than the ones you’ve been lucky enough to find. That one will only open for people who work for Malistaire, similar to the one the false necklace led you to in your first visit to the lair. That being said, I’m pretty certain you’re lost at the moment.”
Another moment passed. “So… do you accept?”
A sigh escaped me, and Hunter tensed, fearing my answer. Unfortunately, I couldn’t help but betray him – he really wanted me to say no, and I knew that would make the most sense, but…
“I can’t believe I’m saying this, but yes. I accept.”
The voice gave us instructions as we trekked through different hallways. It made me wonder again if I’d made the wrong decision – couldn’t this easily be a trap? The voice always said he had a side of his own, but still.
“Are we there yet?” Hunter whined.
“Almost,” the voice assured him. “Go left.”
I frowned. “There is no left. It’s just a wall.”
He paused. “There's a hidden panel around there somewhere. Move your hand over the wall carefully. There should be a large section that isn't rough like the rest of it. You can slide the panel off from there.”
Frowning, I gently placed one finger on the unusual texture of the wall. It wasn't an easy search, considering that some of the edges were sharp and could easily draw blood, but as I skimmed its surface, I found a section that gave me surprisingly little resistance. I cautiously pressed my full palm against it and found it cold and smooth to the touch. I then moved it back, finding where the rough section began, and found a small crack, completely unnoticeable to someone who didn't know what to look for, and dug my fingers into it. From there, a section of the wall peeled away, revealing a perfectly normal door that looked just like every other one in Dragonspyre.
I blinked. "Just how many secret passages are there in this place?"
"Far too many to count," the voice said softly. "Now come inside."
I stepped aside to allow Hunter in first. When I followed him in, I was met with a blast of warm but unmistakably outdoor air. We were on a platform lower than surrounding areas, practically floating on top of the lava. To our left was a ramp leading to higher ground. I followed it, beckoning for Hunter to do the same. We exited through an enormous door emblazoned with Dragonspyre designs similar to the one at the entrance of Malistaire’s lair and arrived at a very odd platform. It seemed to be surrounded by glowing red sparks and possessed a railing.
“Step on,” the voice added. After a moment of hesitation, I did so. The platform lurched when Hunter followed me, and I nearly toppled over. Then it started floating upward, and both Hunter’s eyes and mine widened in shock.
“An elevator!” I breathed. “I haven’t been on an elevator since… since…”
The orphanage. Since Earth.
The magical elevator brought us up to a higher floor, where a long path extended in front of us to yet another wide, ornate door. To both the left and right was a circular platform. Someone stood on the left one.
Actually, to be a bit more accurate, it was a something.
It resembled a Helephant, except it was smaller; somehow that reminded me of the dear Frost Giant who awakened me. It stared at us as though judging us. Flanking it were a Magma Fury and a Feral Lavaling – two powerful creatures found only in Dragonspyre.
“So we finally meet face-to-face.” My jaw dropped when I realized this thing – this unusual Helephant-like creature that looked more like a fifth Oni than anything else – was actually speaking in the same mysterious voice that had guided me so much within the last few hours.
I glanced at Hunter, who was eyeing the Helephant warily. He met my gaze, grimacing worriedly.
“Allow me to introduce myself,” the mini-Helephant said. “My name is Gurtok FireBender.”
“You’re… a monster.” I cringed at how mean that sounded. No, I didn’t want to insult him! Especially since he looked so powerful – I wasn’t in Dragonspyre yet!
Fortunately, he only gave me a strange look that I couldn’t quite read. “Yes. I hear that’s what wizards call creatures different from them? Ones that have the capability to attack – to fight back? Let me tell you this: to us, you are the monsters.”
An overwhelming wave of guilt washed over me, eliciting the need to apologize, or at least defend myself. “I’m sor–”
“Don’t.” The Helephant – or Gurtok FireBender… Bender? Can I call him that? – turned his expression cold. “We are here to battle.”
“But why? How will this help you?”
Bender looked to the side, away from me. “It’s hard to explain.”
“Come on… tell us!” I was surprised that Hunter had spoken up, not me.
Bender huffed. “…Fine.” He gestured to the other platform. “See that? That was where my brother used to stand.”
“You have a brother?” I asked incredulously.
His gaze on me was like steel, and I felt guilt again. “Yes, Sierra. Even monsters have family. Now may I continue?”
I nodded, swallowing loudly.
“My brother’s name is Gurtok Piercer. We were both guardians to this place: Dragon’s Roost. We ensured that the Dragon Titan would not be disturbed. But then… Malistaire came.”
“My brother is of the Ice school, like you, Sierra. Years of service to a Titan who destroyed and opposed his element made him bitter toward me and his work. When Malistaire arrived, he barely did anything to fend him off, and without his help, I was doomed. Now…” He paused, and his trunk curled and uncurled again, as though he were recalling something sad or unpleasant. “He works for Malistaire. There is a curse upon him. I know this… because it is on me too.”
I waited patiently, hoping he would continue. He didn’t. Shifting my weight to my other foot nervously, I asked, “What kind of curse?”
He sighed. “It prevents me from really rebelling against him. I cannot directly attack him, or all the harm comes to me. Nor can I disobey a direct order… but enough of that. The real problem is that the curse binds my life to my brother. He will not be granted freedom until I am, or vice versa. But that is definitely not happening anytime soon. Malistaire ordered my brother to search for you and kill you… in fact, I’m supposed to do the same…”
I took a small step back, startled by these words, but was reminded that I’d been innocently standing here without defenses for at least a full five minutes, and he’d previously made no indication that he planned on killing me. Besides, he helped me earlier. He summoned those portals. Right?
“It seems we’re destined to battle, Sierra WinterBreeze, seeing as we’re on opposing sides.” He sighed again.
“Y-you said that you weren’t working for Malistaire,” I said, accusation seeping into my tone. “You claimed you were good!”
“I did not say that!” he argued. “I said I have my own opinions on the matter. I am neutral. I can’t say I’m very supportive of you Seekers – you have killed many ‘monsters’ that weren’t always evil. Malistaire only made them that way. On the other hand, Malistaire has helped us become strong. He protected us and gave us new land. But… he’s by no means my leader.”
I closed my eyes. “O-o-okay. So, you want us to fight – me and Hunter against you – because Malistaire told you to… but you haven’t attacked us yet, so… I’m confused.”
Bender shook his head. “The only way to be released from the curse is death. If I am defeated, Gurtok Piercer will become free. I just want him safe. And if I win… well, Malistaire has promised freedom to anyone who brings him Seekers.”
I wasn’t sure what to do. He’d shown such strong compassion for his brother, but… I couldn’t let him die! He helped me earlier. He got on my nerves sometimes, sure, but so did Hunter and my other friends. You don’t see my trying to kill them
“Are you ready?” he questioned.
“No,” I answered truthfully. “But I doubt I will be anytime soon. Let’s do this.”
I spotted a smile on the Helephant-creature’s face before he grimly stated, “Yes. Let’s begin.”
With a flash, Gurtok FireBender summoned a Sun Bird. I was so surprised, I didn’t even have time to move. The fiery, winged beast swooped at me, its beak and flaming feathers brushing my robes and blinding me. I shrieked, ducking out of the way, carefully creating a bit of ice to quench the fires burning through my robe. Groaning a bit, I fumbled with the cards of my deck, dropping a few when I tried to obtain a useable spell. That Sun Bird’s blow had a hurt a lot more than it usually did when the battle was contained in a dueling circle. And my clothes had never caught on fire before. Nor did the pain last any longer than a few seconds, leaving me to feel only tired afterward.
“Sierra?” I turned to Hunter, who was looking at my pleadingly. “Can I summon my minion? Sydney never lets me.”
“Yes!” I said through gritted teeth. “We need all the help we can get.”
“Yay!” Instantly a Cyclops Watcher appeared, using the two pips Hunter had saved up. The first thing it did was cast a MythBlade – on me.
It took all my willpower to prevent myself from directing my next spell at it and screaming, “I. Don’t. Know. Any. Myth spells!”
I powered myself up with an IceBlade, again wishing that I’d already learned Colossus. Since I was still waiting for pips, I added an Ice Trap to the mix as well.
And of course, he just had to put up an Ice Shield.
I closed my eyes. This frustration was becoming too much. Opening them again, I used a Feint I knew from my Death spells. It would have to work until I could find a Steal Ward, which could take that Snow Shield away from Gurtok FireBender.
Then Hunter, standing next to me, said, “Um, Sierra?”
“Yes?” I snapped, looking at him. I was stunned to see the Cyclops next to him running toward Bender, club raised as he drew the triangular Myth symbol. “Wait!” I shouted. I could only watch as the Feint disappeared to power up the Cyclops’ most useless spell – Blood Bat.
I spun around, facing Hunter again, this time absolutely furious. “HUNTER!” I yelled. “You wasted my Feint on a Blood Bat? On a level ONE spell?”
“I-I’m sorry,” he stammered. “You cast it just as my Cyclops was attacking, and–”
“I cannot believe this!” I fumed. Okay, it was all my pent up frustration that I was venting out on poor Hunter. The Feint wasn’t a big deal – there was still another one in my deck somewhere and I didn’t really need it if I got Steal Ward – but I couldn’t stand it any longer. I continued screaming, until I heard a small chuckle.
I directed my glare at Gurtok FireBender. “What?”
“I find your arguing amusing. You’re supposed to be partners, teammates – but you aren’t getting anything done. Besides the Blood Bat, you haven’t damaged me at all.”
“Well, if he stopped getting in the way–”
Bender sighed. “Fine. Don’t listen to me. Won’t be my problem in the Malistaire battle, if you even make it that far.” He pointed above his head. “Fortunately, while you were bickering, it gave me time to cast this FireBlade.”
With that statement, the battle continued, with Hunter’s minion casting a Ghoul to do a small amount of damage. I was still angry, but trying to cool down.
There! I triumphantly snatched up my Steal Ward, raising it above my head. I used it, praying it wouldn’t fizzle. Fortunately, it didn’t.
The Snow Shield dissipated in front of Bender, floating over to protect me instead. He frowned slightly, so I smirked, quickly casting Ice Wyvern. Just as I did so, he summoned a Firezilla.
The two creatures glared at one another, neither wanting to move and leave their master at the mercy of their opponent. Finally, the Firezilla roared and lunged at my Wyvern.
The blow to it felt like a blow to me. I felt the wind knocked out of my lungs as I staggered backwards, staring at the Gurtok in surprise. He smirked, raising his sword again.
The Firezilla attacked my Wyvern again, but this time I was ready. Using all the willpower I possessed, I mentally told my Wyvern to dodge. Amazingly, it worked.
From then on, it was a strange, deadly dance between the Ice Wyvern and the Firezilla. Being opposite schools, the battle was fierce; being both for four pips, they were more or less equally matched. This battle was taxing – not only was I harmed by attacks aimed at my Wyvern, but my mana reserves were beginning to dwindle. My energy was quickly draining, and a glance at Gurtok FireBender told me it was the same for him. One of us was going to tire soon, and for some reason, I had a feeling it would be me. I was level 40, and he was… what… Rank 9? He was meant to combat Grandmasters, or at least wizards who, oh, I don’t know… knew Colossus?
Fortunately, we’d both forgotten about one other participant in our battle.
The ground began to shake. At first, neither of us noticed, as occupied as we were with our battle. But when I took a step forward and tripped over a small fissure that opened in the ground, falling painfully onto my knees, it was hard to ignore. Bender stumbled a little too. We exchanged a brief look of confusion with one another before turning to the side to see Hunter proudly standing with a Treasure Card held out.
The cracked ground rumbled again, and then a particularly large crack shot across the ground near Hunter, heading toward Gurtok FireBender like a flash of lightning. With a jolt of horror, I realized this could be his end. I looked at his expression, and it stunned me to find him looking calm and serene.
“Thank you, Seekers,” he said. “Although I may not live to see tomorrow… at least my brother will. Find him. He may help you – or he might destroy you. I’m not certain.” He chuckled. “Goodbye, Sierra. What an honor it was to meet you.”
Then the ground opened beneath him, and he dropped into darkness.
We stared, petrified, at the spot. The ground closed up again in an instant, but I’d never forget where that hole was. The devastating reality of what Hunter had just done suddenly dawned on him, and he crumbled to the ground.
“I… I killed him! I killed a person!”
“N-no, Hunter. It’s not…”
“He was so nice! And I killed him!”
I rushed to his side as he began to cry. The Magma Fury and Feral Lavaling – Gurtok FireBender’s two minions – were still staring, shocked that we’d killed their master. I glared at them, hoping they wouldn’t do anything. They were too powerful for me to take on alone, and Hunter wasn’t in any state to fight. When they started stirring and glancing at each other, I knew it was time to go.
“Hunter,” I whispered, nudging him. I hated interrupting his mourning, but I didn’t have much of a choice. “We have to leave. Now.”
He sat up, taking a deep breath and trying to calm himself. “Yes,” he agreed. “Let’s go.” He wiped his tears away with his sleeve, standing up to follow me. I was impressed. Hunter looked weak, but he was doing very well handling this. And he’d just transformed from a totally helpless, crying little boy to a strong but grim Conjurer. Maybe this was why he was a Seeker.
We hurried off the platform, back to where the elevator was. Another pathway led away from it up toward a door three times our size. Since we didn’t want to go back where we came from, we pushed it opened, promptly letting it slam behind us to prevent any retaliation from the two minions.
Inside the door was a big, circular entryway, like the one at the beginning of Malistaire’s fortress. I took a tentative step forward, fearing something would, like, jump out of the shadows and eat us. It wasn’t that much of an exaggeration, considering where we were. Unfortunately, it turns out some things are worse than Sierra-eating monsters.
“Hello, again, Sierra. I thought I’d be seeing you soon.”
My heart soared at the sound of a familiar voice, hoping it was the Seekers, but I discovered it was the third-to-last person I wanted to meet right now, behind only Malistaire and Liam: Mary RavenGem. She was a bit differently dressed than last time – much more evil-minion-ish, with black MooShu-style robes with blue trim. She wore a smirk on her face and gazed at us coldly.
“What are you doing here, Mary?” I snarled, pushing Hunter behind me as I stepped away from her.
“I live here,” she replied simply. “You’re the intruders.”
“It’s certainly too bad the Shadow Beasts didn’t kill you,” Mary sighed. “I was kind of hoping they’d finish you off finally, but I guess I shouldn’t have expected so much. You’re the most difficult person to get rid of that I’ve ever seen.” Her eyes gleamed. “Of course, I wouldn’t expect less from the one destined to fight Malistaire.”
“Since I’m destined to fight him, I think you should let me go. So I can, um, meet my destiny.”
She smiled icily. “No, I can’t do that. Destiny can always be thwarted, Sierra, remember that. It can be manipulated to work for you, to propel you forward… or it can turn against you, attack you, force you to do its bidding.” She paused. “This is what my father tells me, so I believe it.”
She ignored my question. “That also means you don’t have to fight him. You could turn around right now, rebel against the path you’ve been commanded to take. Go home, and enjoy a normal life. You want that, don’t you?”
I glared at her. “Sure, I want to be normal. But then you’d take over Wizard City or something, and my family would be attacked just like everyone else. I have people to fight for.”
“We’d leave them alone. If you leave right now, we won’t hurt you.”
I didn’t say anything, trying not to show how much her words impacted me. If I could keep my mom, my dad, and my sister safe…
“No,” I said aloud, crushing my own thoughts. “No. I won’t betray my friends for my family and own safety. I’m not like… Liam.”
Mary sighed, sounding genuinely disappointed. “That’s what I thought you would say. I suppose one of us won’t be leaving here alive, then, and you can be sure I’m just as reluctant to die as you are.”
I started panicking when she raised her wand – the very same MooShu one she’d stolen (I wondered why she even kept that; surely she could use at least a sword?). I didn’t want to fight – especially after just defeating Gurtok FireBender. I was still worn out and I needed time to restore my mana. I grasped for something, anything to say that would make her stop.
“Um… wait! What about… your father?” I blurted out, recalling what she said earlier.
Mary visibly tensed, narrowing her eyes at me. “What about him?”
“Is he, uh… working for Malistaire? Is that why you do it? Or is he dead? Do you have siblings, and a mother?” I was rambling now and I knew it, but I didn’t stop. I would do anything to stall. Mary was still regarding me with a confused expression. “Do you talk to your father a lot? With the way you turned out, I can’t imagine he is a very loving, fatherly figure. …No offense,” I hastily added when her eyes blazed.
“My father? You know nothing about him! He loves me and Mother a lot! Just watch. When she comes back, we’ll all be happily together again, and… and… he’ll love me.” Her voice was rising with every word. “I won’t let you hurt him, Sierra. He only wants Sylvia back. You can’t hurt him!” I spotted a few tears running down her cheek, though she was blinking furiously, holding them back.
But I was too shocked to pity her. “Wait. What? Sylvia?”
“Oh.” Good. For a moment I thought it might be…
“But,” Mary interjected, “when she married she took on her husband’s last name. Drake. Sylvia Drake.”
Hunter spoke up before I could. “But that means–”
“Yes. I am the daughter of Malistaire and Sylvia Drake.”
It came crashing down on me. Mary’s voice had always reminded me of someone. Now that I thought about it, she had the same voice as her father, the Spiral’s greatest evil and my arch-enemy.
“No! Y-You’re… lying…” I stammered. If Malistaire had a daughter, it would make it so much harder for me to kill him. I couldn’t destroy a father, leaving someone without parents. Not when I knew how that felt.
“I am not lying,” she growled. “And I can’t let you get to him. I’ve got to stop you or die trying.” I looked into her eyes as she went into a dueling stance, and for the very first time, I saw fear. Fear for a loved one.
“Mary, please. I don’t want fight you.”
“Then turn around, right now. I can’t let you fight Malistaire.”
“We have to! He’s going to unleash the Dragon Titan! He’ll destroy the Spiral!”
“We just want Mom back. That’s all.”
“Mary,” I sighed, “no. That’s not all. Malistaire has killed people. He’s grown obsessive, and he’s used evil magic to harm the innocent. Stealing lives just to save one seems silly, doesn’t it?”
Suddenly I was pushed backwards by some invisible force and slammed against the wall, causing the wind to be knocked out of me. Mary was quick to act, rushing over and trapping me there. “Don’t. Say. Anything,” she snarled. “My father taught me a lot about dark magic. I’m fully capable of killing you right now.”
I should have been frightened – and of course I was. But then that new sense of calm I’d gained in the past few hours kicked in.
“Then do it,” I whispered. “Kill me.”
Hunter stared at the whole scene in shock, tears in his eyes. As Mary’s hand shook, her eyes darted to the side to glance at him. He seemed to be silently pleading with her.
I shook my head as best as I could while being pinned to the wall by dark magic. “You can’t do it, can you? Haven’t you noticed your father’s mental deterioration?” I thought for a moment about what to say next, and an unexpected wave of sympathy came with a new realization. “He can’t really have time for you. While he’s so involved in his work, he probably hardly even remembers you’re a daughter. You’re more like a subordinate to him, just slightly above the rest of them. Am I right?”
Before I even asked the question, I already knew from the defeated look in her eyes that I was.
“But he’s family,” Mary argued halfheartedly. “I can’t just–”
“One life is better than many,” I repeated, reminding her of my previous reasoning. “I’m sorry; I really am. I don’t want to do this either. But it’s destiny. You’d think if something was determined by fate, it must be for a reason, right? Why try and change it, even if you can?”
She closed her eyes, taking in a deep breath. I could see the internal agony this conversation was producing, and I wished with all my heart that I could do something to ease her torture. I could hardly pretend to understand the entirety of this situation – I had loving parents that had searched for me for many years, never giving up hope that their lost daughter would one day return. Her father preferred to act like she didn’t exist and probably wouldn’t care about her anymore than his other minions if something happened to her. But at least I knew how difficult it was to step aside and let something terrible happen to a family member. Perhaps it was on a completely different level in this case, but I couldn’t imagine just selflessly surrendering my family for the lives of wizards I didn’t even know.
In fact, I was just about ready to give up and try a different way of escaping with my life, ready to accept the fact that there was no way Mary would make such a sacrifice. Then she surprised me.
She stepped back, freeing me. “I’ll let you go this time,” she said slowly. She met my gaze, her cold, fierce, pitiless composure back in place. “But please note that it won’t be so easy next time. I can’t promise that I won’t protect my father.”
“I understand,” I answered solemnly.
Mary nodded and stepped away. I started walking down the hallway and didn’t look back.
“Not now, Hunter.”
“But where are we going?”
“That’s a wonderful question.”
“…You still haven’t answered it.”
I sighed. “Just keep walking, Hunter.”
We continued down the hallway in silence.
My thoughts were conflicted, a whirlpool of guilt, determination, and confusion. Malistaire had a daughter – how could the rest of the Spiral not know that? Did Headmaster Ambrose know that?
With a jolt of shock, I remembered that Merle Ambrose and Gamma were still missing.
Ugh. Things could never be simple, could they? Why wasn’t the headmaster just locked up with the Seekers? But no. That would be too convenient for poor Sierra WinterBreeze, who obviously hasn’t endured more adventure in one year than most people could have in a lifetime–
I glared at Hunter for interrupting my mental sarcastic rant. “What?”
“There’s something there!”
“Really?” We’d only just left Mary behind – we’d passed through three enormous doors akin to the ones at the entrance of Malistaire’s lair and entered a circular foyer that had a beautiful, unobstructed view of Dragonspyre in the distance. There wasn’t even a railing or any kind of window. The wall just seemed to end there, and started back up again when the next hallway began on the left. It was down that hallway that I spotted Hunter’s point of concern. But the figure didn’t look like a person. It was oddly shaped, way too colossal to be a wizard.
I halted Hunter. “I don’t know what that thing is, but I don’t think I want to find out.”
“But it’s coming toward us!”
Again – he was right.
“Dang it! Um…” There weren’t any other ways to go besides backwards – no rooms or nooks for us to dive into, no hiding spots to exploit. We were trapped, and the figure had already seen us.
I glanced behind us, not quite willing to rule out the option of fleeing. Should we turn back, and risk running into Mary again?
But as it got closer, the shape became familiar. No, it wasn’t a wizard, but it sort of looked like…
“Bender?” I whispered.
The figure came close enough to recognize specific characteristics, and I realized it wasn’t Gurtok FireBender. He looked similar, but this thing possessed a blue body instead, and a much, much harsher demeanor.
He eyed me emotionlessly. “You know my brother.”
I nodded vigorously, realizing who he was. “So you’re Gurtok…”
“Piercer. I am called Gurtok Piercer.” His eyes narrowed, looking rather intimidating. “And you… you are Sierra?”
This guy was so different from Gurtok FireBender. He had been warm, kind, and selfless enough to sacrifice himself for his brother. This guy – he was scary!
“Yeah. I’m… S-Sierra… um, Sierra WinterBreeze.” I gestured toward my companion. “And this is Hunter ThunderShield.”
Gurtok Piercer looked intently at Hunter. “You killed my brother.”
Hunter took a step back, appearing terrified with wide eyes. “I’m s-sorry!” he stammered. “I-I wasn’t–”
“That will not bring him back. He is dead.” He glanced away with remorse.
“…How exactly do you know all this?” I inquired, suspicious.
“My brother had two assistants: a Feral Lavaling and a Magma Fury. They were there when the battle occurred and told me everything.” The Helephant-creature’s expression grew angry. “FireBender, you fool! You sacrificed yourself for my freedom… why! There were other paths to liberation, perhaps for us both…”
“Um… are you mad at us?” Only after the question left my mouth did I realize how dumb it sounded.
Gurtok Piercer, to my surprise, replied, “No. I am not. I know it was my brother’s will, and his mistake cannot be blamed on you.”
Wow. From such an intimidating, cold guy, I totally wasn’t expecting that.
“Your brother’s last words mentioned you,” I mumbled, trying to say something comforting.
Piercer sighed. “I know. He was hoping I’d help you.” He caught my gaze, staring me in the eye. “I’ll honor his memory by taking you to my former master: Malistaire. Any your friends as well – I stumbled upon them earlier.”
“Our friends? You mean the other Seekers?” Hunter interjected excitedly.
Piercer nodded, a ghost of a smile on his face.
“This is great!” he shouted. “We’ll see Sydney again! And your sister, Sierra. Rowan!”
“And Mark, and Victoria, and Vanessa…” I reminded him, but beaming from his contagious enthusiasm.
“Right!” Hunter nodded ebulliently. “Let’s go. Let’s find them. Right away!”
And so, once again, I was led on by a person who I’d just met and could barely trust. Last time hadn’t turned out so great. Oh well. Whatever.
Luckily, this time it didn’t take long. All Gurtok Piercer had to do was lead us to the end of that left hallway that he’d been standing in and as we emerged into a great room…
…I was tackled to the ground by Rowan WillowLeaf.
Seized by fits of giggles, I shoved her off to embrace her in a more comfortable greeting and gazed over her shoulder at the ecstatic faces of the other Seekers. Hunter rushed in to find his own sister, who grabbed him fiercely into a hug and yelled at how stupid he was to have wandered off. I grinned at the sight as the other Seekers surrounded her and demanded that Sydney leave the poor boy alone, despite how happy they all were to see him back.
After tons of laughter and excitement, everyone finally calmed down, and I supposed it was time to start catching up with one another.
“What happened to you guys?” I asked to no one in particular.
“I think we should be asking you that question,” Vanessa said. “You just seemed to disappear. When we realized you were gone, we went back for you, but no one was there. We were so worried. Gurtok Piercer here found us and mentioned something about a battle… what did you guys do?”
I explained the identity of the mysterious voice and our duel with him. Then I reached the part about Mary… and I hesitated. Learning who Mary’s father was had been hard enough for me. Did I really want to force inner turmoil upon them as well?
…Unfortunately, it was hard to understand why she’d let me go otherwise.
“Um… I convinced her that she should release us and let us fight Malistaire. I told her…” I let my voice trail off. I wasn’t sure what to say.
“She convinced her that Malistaire wasn’t important,” Hunter muttered. Everyone turned to face him. “His life isn’t worth the deaths of many others. Wizard City deserves to live as well. She let us go when she heard that…”
I beamed at him. I saw him differently than when we first entered Malistaire’s Lair. Now I could picture him as a friend… as an ally in battle.
“And what about you guys?” I inquired, shifting the attention away from Hunter. “What happened to you? And where’s Jessica?”
“We… ran into some trouble,” Mark said quietly.
“It was nothing,” Rowan quickly added when I raised an eyebrow. “Just a few Draconians stalking the halls. But… Jessica got rid of them.”
“She went out to tell them that she knew where the Seekers were, and led them in a different direction,” Vanessa explained. “I really think she was just forced to work for Malistaire – she had no choice. Sierra, I know you don’t like her, but honestly, we can trust her…”
I sighed. “Okay. So you have no idea what became of her besides that?”
They all shook their heads.
“Great… first Merle Ambrose, now this girl… the list of people we’re going to have to save just gets longer and longer…”
Everyone stared at me in shock.
“…What?” I asked, not quite understand their expressions.
“What happened to Headmaster Ambrose?” Vanessa demanded.
It dawned on me that I hadn’t told them. “Oh. I went in to tell him about Rowan’s awakening, but he wasn’t there. Then Mary showed up, and… I rescued you guys…”
“The Headmaster was gone? That can’t be good,” Mark murmured.
“But the only thing we can do at this point is fulfill our destinies. If what everyone’s been telling me is correct, then that is to defeat Malistaire. Are you guys ready?”
Only silence greeted me. The Seekers exchanged worried glances.
“Um, okay. That wasn’t what I was expecting. Seriously, guys, it’s not that bad! We’ll totally beat Malistaire! It’ll be easy!” Wow. My enthusiasm sounded utterly fake. It didn’t help that I frowned at the end of my sentence due to my lie.
“Sierra… we’re just a little nervous,” Victoria said. “Malistaire is so powerful and we’re just seven young students from Ravenwood. The odds are not in our favor.”
“But… oh, come on, do I have to repeat my encouragement speech from earlier, at the false Tower of Lost Memories? Don’t you remember what I said?”
“Good. We’ve faced bad stuff before. We can do this.” Ignoring my friends’ grimaces, I turned to Gurtok Piercer, who had been standing mutely behind me the whole time. “Can you take us there now?”
He pointed at the door at the back of this room. I hadn’t noticed it when we’d first arrived – I’d been a little too eager to reunite with the Seekers. Now that I had a chance to observe it, I saw that it was even huger than the huge doors we’d thus far been met with. It towered all the way to the high ceiling, but was still adorned with the same red dragon-like markings on the purple background. “Malistaire is through that door. Your friends slew the guards that were in this room earlier, which reversed the spell on this door that kept it locked. Despite how heavy it looks, you should be able to open it without a problem. If you just follow the path through there, you should be met with Malistaire.” He took a step back. “If you don’t mind, I’m going to wait here. I think I’ll be able to see the battle from over that ledge.” He indicated a small hill that separated this room from another one across the way. “I’d help you, but I just got my freedom back, and…”
“I understand,” I assured him, nodding. I motioned to my friends to follow me. “Come on! Let’s go.”
One hallway later, and we entered a room even larger than the last. It was vaguely circular in shape, and the back of the room had no wall, allowing us to see out into the dark, clouded sky of Dragonspyre. Most of us froze in shock when we realized that part of that sky wasn’t actually sky – it was part of a massive dragon, whose single, closed eye that showed was bigger than the two of the largest Shadow Beasts I’d ever seen in my short encounters with them combined. And trust me; Shadow Beasts could be pretty big, at least equal to five times my own height. This dragon was just… incomprehensibly immense.
Our fear wasn’t helped by the fact that in the center of the room stood the very image that haunted every single one of our nightmares since learning of our destinies as Seekers of Light.
Malistaire, with eight ghostly Soul Servants, stared right at us. Mary and Liam also watched from beside their master.
All seven of us – me, Rowan, Sydney, Victoria, Mark, Hunter, and Vanessa – approached as slowly as possible. While our enemies looked confident and smug, we appeared apprehensive and, to be honest, rather pathetic. We were only a group of wizards-in-training, not even Grandmasters, let alone the Legendaries that should be fighting this fiend…
“We meet again, Seekers,” Malistaire boomed, his voice echoing across the great room. I thought I saw the sleeping dragon’s eye twitch. “So glad you could make it.”
I should have made one of my infamous sarcastic remarks, if only to encourage my friends. But my throat felt dry, and I could only croak, “Um, hello.”
He smirked. “All right. Where should I begin? Which one of you should I kill first?”
I swallowed. “Okay... Malistaire… why don’t we just, you know… skip the fighting and do this peacefully? Like, just stop all this Krokonomicon and Dragon Titan craziness?”
Can’t blame me for trying.
His expression turned menacing – as though it wasn’t before. “Are you suggesting I surrender?”
“No! ...Well, actually, yeah. Pretty much. I wouldn’t put it in those words exactly, but…”
“You fools!” Everyone – including the Soul Servants – winced at Malistaire’s roar. “I am more powerful than you can imagine! Why give up now? After I bring Sylvia back, it will be easy to take over all the worlds in the Spiral. And the only thing in my way, the only thing fate could bother sending to stop me?” He looked at us and laughed. “Seven measly student wizards. How pathetic. The Spiral Guardians clearly underestimate me; they cannot comprehend how strong I have become.”
“In case you don’t remember,” I spoke up against all my better judgment, “we busted into your lair and broke out again. Twice. Well, the first time, we were kind of captured, but we escaped anyway. If you couldn’t kill us then, what makes you think you can do it now?”
His icy eyes locked on mine. I involuntarily shuddered and hoped no one noticed. “I have learned from my mistakes. You are Sierra WinterBreeze, correct?”
I didn’t reply out of fear my voice would shake.
Malistaire didn’t seem to need an answer. “Yes, I remember you. Very defiant, aren’t you? You have no respect for your betters.” He seemed thoughtful. “Though you’re rather resourceful too, if what you did to my Skeletal Pirate guard was any indication.”
Oh. Right. That time when I was trapped in that room and I used Death magic on the pirate…
“And don’t think I do not know about the spell you used.” I tensed. Oh, my gosh, he knew! He knew about the black lightning! How? I hadn’t told anyone about that. No one. Not even the Seekers. My friends gave me confused looks, but I provided no explanation. Malistaire smiled maliciously, knowing my shock.
“I-I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I stammered. “That has nothing to do with any of this.”
“What a lie that is,” Malistaire chuckled. “Though everyone else in this room may be oblivious, you and I know the truth. You’re no stranger to dark magic.”
My heart was beginning to pound even harder than before. Surely Malistaire could hear it even from across the room. Everyone in the area was staring at me now. I didn’t know what else to do, so I laughed nervously. “Well, duh. I mean… you guys keep attacking us and everything, so I recognize the kind of magic you use by now.”
He gazed at me unblinkingly, studying my face. “Just keep telling yourself that, Sierra WinterBreeze. But know that even if you defeat me, there’s no escaping it.”
“Do I even want to know exactly what it is that I can’t escape?” I mumbled weakly.
He betrayed no emotion. “I don’t know. Do you?”
I hesitated for a moment, before finally saying, “Um, no.” I inhaled deeply, trying to calm myself. Finally, my new leader-skills kicked in. “You know what? I’ll probably ‘escape’ whatever it is anyway. Because… I’m a Seeker.” I grinned. “Seekers don’t give up.” I raised Megan’s wand. “Enough talking. Let’s do this.”
“Very well.” He took a step back. “I’ll enjoy watching.”
“Wait – what?” I watched as his minions started advancing toward us. “You’re not fighting us again? Seriously?”
“I see no reason to become involved, unless my minions fail,” Malistaire said offhandedly. “They’re more powerful than anything you’ve fought before. I have confidence that they can keep you distracted for the time being.”
“You… coward! That’s not–” My angry cry was cut short as a Soul Servant dove at me. I was forced to dodge out of the way and reach for my deck, using a wand spell to push it back. I started rushing forward to where Malistaire, Mary, and Liam were retreating. I saw a few of my friends attempting to follow, but I waved a hand behind me. “Handle the Soul Servants. I’m going for Malistaire.”
“No, Sierra! You can’t go on your own.” Rowan jogged over to me. “I’ll come with you.”
“Rowan,” I said sternly, “you can’t leave our friends outnumbered five to eight without a healer.”
“The odds are against you too! You’re about to fight the Spiral’s greatest evil alone! Are you crazy?”
“Maybe,” I sighed. If only we had more people…
As though summoned by my thoughts, a blue-green portal appeared. Everyone halted their battles to watch in absolute shock as Scarlet MoonHeart, Jasmine IceFlame, and Seth GoldenBlood stepped out, trailed by two dragons and a pet Fire Cat.
“Mister Muffin?” called Rowan.
“Lady Rascal!” Victoria cried.
“Sir Romeo!” Sydney gasped.
“Seth! Scarlet! Jasmine!” While the pets rushed towards their respective owners, I headed towards my newly arrived friends.
“What are you doing here?” I demanded, unsure whether to be upset or relieved.
“We’ve come to help!” Seth declared. He brandished his wand. "So? Where do I go to kick some dark wizard butt?”
“Oh! Over there! I’m going to help!” He rushed into the fray with the Soul Servants before I could protest, attacking an enemy with a quickly conjured fireball.
I turned to Jasmine and Scarlet.
“The Past Seekers helped us get here,” Jasmine explained. “They told us we’re destined to help the Seekers so they gave us this–” She held up the metal leaf from Rowan’s awakening. “–and it created a portal leading here.”
“And before you ask,” Scarlet added, “we also picked up the pets. According to the Past Seekers, they’re important too.”
“Um… okay…” I caught my sister grinning wildly out of the corner of my eye while she held Mister Muffin in her arms. I sighed. “Alright, Rowan. You can come. Scarlet, you’ll be our only healer here. Think you can do it?”
She nodded. “Sure. Where are you going?”
“I’ll take on Liam, Mary, and Malistaire, or at least keep them busy while you guys finish off the other minions.”
“You’re going to see Liam?”
We glanced to the side to find Vanessa staring at us, her wand still smoking from the battle she appeared to have just won.
“I’m coming,” she said firmly. “He’s my brother. I’m coming.”
I closed my eyes in resignation. There really was no way for me to stop her, was there? “Fine. Let’s go before someone else wants to join. Scarlet and Jasmine, go help out Seth and the others. Make sure you have plenty of healing spells, Scarlet.” I turned to Rowan and Vanessa. “Ready?”
We ran off to the back of the room where Malistaire stood. He seemed to have been waiting for us.
The six of us stoically gazed at each other in a moment of silence.
Malistaire attacked first.
He swept his staff in the shape of the Death symbol and summoned a Wraith (though how he got enough pips for that right away, I don’t know… that’s just not fair). It stared straight at me, and I felt a lurch in my stomach as it raised its hand upward, leaving me to struggle for air. However, only a second later its strange grip on my soul was released and I stumbled backward with a gasp. My sister had jumped in front of me, a Death shield protecting us from her Legend Shield spell. I felt Vanessa move behind us with a twirl of her own MooShu sword. She summoned a Balance Blade for me.
So I’m the attacker. Great. Sure, let’s give the girl with the weakest spells the responsibility of dealing enough damage to destroy the Spiral’s greatest evil.
Sighing, I began to follow her lead and picked up my Ice Blade card, but a blast of magic over my shoulder, just barely missing my head, quite successfully startled me into stopping. I turned to the source of the blast and noticed Mary gazing at us, wand up with another Balance symbol floating in front of her, ready to be activated. I narrowed my eyes into a glare, and she smirked in response. She activated the symbol.
A cloud of purple mist appeared in front of me. My eyes widened again. Spectral Blast! It did damage from one of the three elemental schools…
…and it just so happened to be Storm, the most damaging of all.
But, yet again, destiny stepped in – this time in the form of Vanessa and her awesome Elemental Shield spell. She jumped in the way and let the spell break the shield, hurting her a bit in the process. But she didn’t stop there. Steely resolve depicted on her face, she rushed toward Mary, casting a quick Scorpion as she went.
Now that Mary was distracted, I brought my attention back to the matter at hand… but it was a second too late. Malistaire already had the Death Symbol up again, and this time it sent a Scarecrow.
It first reached toward me and I gasped for breath, feeling some strength leave my body and transfer to Malistaire. Then it turned to my sister. I could only watch as it drained Rowan’s life too. At last it turned to Vanessa…
“Oh no you don’t,” Rowan muttered, running in that direction. “That’s not fair, interrupting a battle like that!”
Liam, who hadn’t even moved until now, mumbled something that sounded like having his sister fight her own battles and rushed after Rowan.
Now Malistaire and I were alone.
Yay. Time to spend some quality time with the Spiral’s greatest evil.
I prepared myself for another spell, already forming half of the circular Ice symbol with my wand, but Malistaire was faster. I was launched backwards when a Skeletal Pirate struck me. I struggled to push myself back up, trying to get back on my feet, but something cold and metal halted me.
The Skeletal Pirate hadn’t disappeared, and its sword was now pointing at my throat. My eyes grew wider as I registered Malistaire’s smirk of triumph.
Oh, no. I’d forgotten about the “no dueling circle” rules. Spell creatures didn’t have to disappear after they were cast.
And if that Skeletal Pirate killed me, I wouldn’t come back. It would hurt. I would die.
This couldn’t be it. I couldn’t die here! Not when I’d come so far…
With all these horrified thoughts numbing my mind, I almost didn’t believe it when the Skeletal Pirate burst into flames.
I closed my eyes, briefly thinking that such a phenomenon had to be an illusion born from wistful thinking. That was… until the pirate fell on top of me and I felt the heat from the flames devouring its bony body. I quickly shoved it off of me and leapt to my feet, frantically brushing off the fires trying to eat my robes with a bit of Ice magic.
I glanced around, searched for the source of my mysterious fire. I was stunned to see…
The little Fire Cat, wagging his tail, meowed happily at the sound of his name. Sydney sprinted over, appearing just as bewildered as I felt.
“He just set that Skeletal Pirate on fire with his fur!” she whispered. “He saved you!”
“Indeed he did,” Malistaire cut in with a low, menacing voice, concealing barely restrained anger. He raised his staff.
Sydney realized what was happening before I did. “NO!”
I grabbed her arm and held her back as Malistaire unleashed the spell. We watched helplessly as Sir Romeo was seized by thick clouds of darkness. We heard his terrified cry while he struggled in the darkness. With a final choking sound, he went limp, and the clouds unceremoniously dumped him back on the ground.
Sydney muttered “no” a few more times before violently yanking her hand out of my grasp. She rushed to her pet’s side.
“You… you monster!” she screamed, glaring up at Malistaire. “You’re a psychopath! How dare you kill him!”
“If it makes you feel any better, it didn’t suffer long,” Malistaire chuckled. “I choked the life right out of its tiny, helpless little–”
“STOP!” With a speed and ferocity that I’d never seen in her before, she summoned her Phoenix spell. Its wings glowed brighter than ever as it screeched and stretched.
You know… I’d never understood why Sydney was Fire. She seemed too laid back for that. Now that I’d seen her temper, however, it had all become very clear.
Screaming a battle-cry, Sydney thrust her wand forward and the Phoenix followed the motion.
Malistaire didn’t miss a beat. He stepped to the side, letting the Phoenix miss him completely. He then countered with a blast of dark energy, knocking both the Phoenix and, due to their connection, Sydney back. But she didn’t give up. She took a determined step forward and resumed her attacking, this time catching Malistaire off-guard. Glaring, he tried to counter, but the Phoenix returned. Snarling angrily, the evil wizard responded by drawing the Death symbol and summoning–
“No way… Skeletal Dragon?!”
My heart fluttered in fear at the incredible spell that Malistaire had brought into the combat. Even Sydney’s ceaseless assaults were brought to a halt by the sight. It loomed over us, and everyone froze in horror – even Mary and Liam, busy dueling Rowan and Vanessa, paused in their battles. I couldn’t see my other friends and Seekers due to their position behind us, but judging by the silence I knew they were shocked too.
The dragon was even bigger than usual – and Skeletal Dragon, being so advanced that only the recent new “Legendary” graduates could control it, was enormous to begin with. Its empty eyes scanned the frozen scene before it. Everyone held their breath to wait for its next move.
“Now you will see the true extent of my power!” Malistaire boomed.
The Skeletal Dragon raised its bony head and roared before turning its gaze to the ground. Its first prey? Sydney JadeHammer’s Phoenix.
“Sydney!” I screamed. “Dispell the Phoenix! If it kills that, you’ll be killed, too!”
My warning came too late. She looked up at me – just as the Skeletal Dragon breathed an orb of reddish-dark energy. With a high-pitched screech, the Phoenix was hit. It disappeared into fiery smoke as Sydney collapsed to the ground.
“No… Sydney!” I cried.
“You’ll pay for that!”
A tan colored streak with green flecks flew over my head. I watched in bewilderment as it crashed into the Skeletal Dragon, but merely bounced off. The dragon gave it a brief glance, and then whipped its massive skeletal hand toward it. I followed the object’s trajectory with my eyes. As it tumbled behind me, I noticed Hunter standing by the other Seekers with his face screwed up in concentration. Just before it crashed, the streak vanished. Hunted opened his eyes and sighed exhaustedly. I gave him a questioning look.
“Blood Bat,” he explained. “It was the only thing that could fly to reach the dragon’s height. Apparently it didn’t work.” He sighed. “Well, at least I tried…”
My attention was forced back to the danger at hand when the dragon reared its head with a loud, deafening roar that made us all clutch our ears. Malistaire gave a malicious, cruel smile.
Then the dragon attacked.
Or maybe the correct term is “rampaged”.
One of the dragon’s massive hands pounded the ground, throwing everyone in the room except Malistaire to the ground from the impact.
While we all struggled to our feet (except Sydney, who appeared to be unconscious), the dragon took a step forward, its foot just about to come crashing down… on top of me.
“SIERRA! MOVE!” someone shouted.
I didn’t even hesitate. I dove to the side, grimacing at the quake caused by the dragon’s foot landing mere inches from my body. Soon the foot lifted into the air again and away from me, crashing down in Mark and Scarlet’s direction, both of whom scrambled out of the way.
Then I glanced in the direction I’d heard the familiar voice call my name, prepared to thank my savior, but the only people I saw there were, to my surprise, Mary and Liam.
Shocked, I looked around – surely it’d been someone else? The voice had been male; of that I was certain. But Mark, Hunter, and Seth were all on the other side of the room, distracted by the Skeletal Dragon’s relentless attacks. Liam was staring straight at me, eyes wide and stunned. Further proving my unlikely suspicion was the murderous look Mary was giving him.
“DUCK!” The sharp cry from Victoria was followed by various grunts and yelps as everyone dropped to the ground, including Malistaire’s two minions in front of me. I followed their example, feeling something swiftly fly over my head like a whip. Gazing upwards, I realized that it was the dragon’s sweeping tail.
This isn’t working, I thought, watching my friends cast a few spells. We’ve had so many close calls with that thing, but none of our attacks seem to do any damage. What do we–
Suddenly, another pound onto the ground from the Skeletal Dragon caused the room to shake, and I noted with much dismay that the half-crumbling walls surrounding the area couldn’t take it anymore. Large chunks of rock tumbled downward from the sky, creating yet another hazard for us to avoid. While my mind still furiously tried to conjure up some kind of battle strategy, my eyes swept over the scene – and subsequently widened in horror.
It was like everything was moving in slow motion. Sydney was still immobile on the ground. Vanessa, like a good friend, had rushed to her side to help her move out of the way. Unfortunately, she hadn’t noticed the huge rock that was falling down right on top of them.
A strangled noise between a sob and a gasp caught in my throat as I tried to form the warning that could save Vanessa and Sydney both. But I was too late. There was no possible way that I could get it out in time. And I wasn’t close enough to try any kind of self-sacrificing pushing-out-of-the-way act. They were doomed…
…Hey, wait. What was that thing moving toward them?
Bewildered, I watched the figure sprint to the pair’s side with his wand raised. He hastily drew the Balance symbol and activated it just as swiftly. A blast of Storm-charged energy sped toward the rock and swept it away. Unfortunately, in the process, it nearly hit Hunter, who had also been rushing to help his sister. Only quick reflexes allowed him to dodge, although the rock did manage to graze his arm and leave a rather nasty-looking scratch.
Confident that he was alright for the moment, I glanced back at Sydney and Vanessa. I... probably shouldn't have been so surprised by what I found there, but I was. Of course it was Liam. It just had to be Liam. He was mumbling concernedly to Vanessa, who still was looking a bit stunned from such a near death experience. Ugh... couldn't he just pick a side and stick with it? His unstable loyalty was giving me a headache.
I wasn't the only one irritated by this, apparently. Unfortunately, receiving negative attention was bad for both me and him – at least when it came from the Spiral's greatest evil.
Malistaire and the dragon turned simultaneous in an extremely eerie way. A glance into Malistaire's eyes made me shudder. It was a look of pure hatred and insanity. I had no doubt that he'd kill his own daughter now. He wasn't himself.
"You..." he growled at Liam, his voice seeming much louder and more booming than usual. "You have meddled with my plans for the last time!"
Everyone else also focused their attention on Liam, staring at him and he conjured up and explanation. "I... I didn't do it for the Fire girl... I did it for Vanessa."
"It doesn't matter!" Malistaire snarled. It was difficult to hear his next few words over the roar of his dragon. "You never have been completely committed to my cause! You only joined because you thought the opportunity may save your life and the lives of your family... because you wanted to be on the winning side. Well, you were wrong! Goodbye, Liam GriffinBane!"
He laughed maniacally as the dragon swung. "And know that once you're gone... your sister will be next!"
I watched with breath held as the dragon's fist connected with his body. It was sickening to watch a human being zoom across the cavern. He slammed into the ground a good distance away, skidding dangerously close to the edge of the room, where it dropped off into the sky of Dragonspyre. I stood there, frozen, as Malistaire chuckled and his dragon gave one good pound on the ground. The vibration caused all of our bodies to jump into the air – and Liam was sent careening off the cliff.
"NO!" I wasn't certain who shouted it – me, or Vanessa, or maybe both. But we both were at the side of the cliff in an instant, peering over the side. I wasn't sure if I should be relieved or upset to see Liam still clinging onto the ledge. Vanessa let out a lob sob that may or may not have been an attempt to say his name. However, before she could consider saving him, she was jerked back with a gasp as the dragon grasped hold of her and pulled her back. I should have been more concerned... but my gaze was locked with Liam's.
I was the only one left. The only one close enough to save him.
The question was: did I want to?
My heart pounded abnormally loud, my eyes wide with terror and indecision. He looked up at me pleadingly. "Sierra..."
And suddenly, his grip failed and he was forced to let go, his form dropping out of sight in seconds.
I stared at the spot that he'd just been, my face a blank mask. That space of empty air had once held a living being. A human, whom I'd denied the right to live simply by doing nothing.
Oh my gosh... Liam had just... died... and it was my fault...
I had no more time to ponder over this revelation, because before I could even begin to overcome my shock, I was lifted into the air by a skeletal hand. I glanced up, still slightly dazed as my eyes met the Skeletal Dragon's empty sockets. I spotted Vanessa struggling to free herself from his other hand out of the corner of my eye.
There were multiple shouts coming from beneath me, and it wasn't long before I felt an impact go through the Skeletal Dragon's body and it shuddered with pain. Its grip loosened, but it did not release me or Vanessa. Good thing, too. At this height, I'd probably be crushed against the ground. So, instead I started to worm my way out of the massive hand.
My attempt was actually quite successful – the dragon was too busy attacking the wizards at its feet to worry about an escaping prisoner that would have nowhere to go, even after getting free from his grip. It was made slightly more difficult by the fact that he liked to wave his hands around with me in tow, and I was starting to feel like I was on some kind of staggering carnival ride of death. Even so, I liberated my arms... but hesitated, a little too worried that if I pulled out my legs then I'd be released entirely and flung across the room with his next swipe.
Just then, a streak of red and yellow flew over to me. Before I could see what it was, however, an outraged dragon took another grand sweep of his arm across the floor in an attempt to hit some unlucky Seekers and took me away from it. I looked around, but I didn't see it anymore, so I wondered if there had actually been anything at all or if it had been my imagination. Sighing, I decided that whatever it had been must have left – and then I turned to the side and found myself face-to-face with a Sunbird.
"Flame!" I whispered excitedly. It raised its head proudly at the sound of its pet name, given to it by Rowan as a means for calming it down. It gestured to its back with its beak. "You want me to climb on?"
I glanced around, and the dragon looked like he was preoccupied with trying to crush Scarlet under the hand with Vanessa's body. So... I decided to take a huge risk.
I jerked my legs out of the dragon's hand – and instantly I was caught by gravity. For the first time, I realized that of course the dragon wasn't going to be super nice and keep me standing straight up. Instead of getting to my feet as I hoped, I was flung into the air and started falling to my demise.
...Until something warm, red, and feathered caught me.
"Th-Thanks, Flame," I said weakly as the Sunbird gently drifted down, depositing me safely onto firm ground. It nodded once before flying off in Vanessa's direction. I looked over at Rowan, who was smiling at me. I sure was lucky to have a sister trained second in Fire. I'd definitely have to thank her later.
Unfortunately, being back on solid ground didn't mean I had a moment to consider my next move. Nope. Our eye contact was broken when I was caught in the stomach by a blast of energy, landing on my back, gasping for air. I sat up to see Mary glaring at me, her wand still glowing with the power of the simple energy attack. I raised my own wand in defense, planning on conjuring a Tower Shield, but Seth got there first. Oddly enough, rather than casting a spell he emanated a war cry and tackled her to the ground, causing her to shriek in surprise. It was strange watching them struggle against each other as Mary shouted out furious curses. Trusting (okay, hoping) that Seth could handle her for the time being, I returned my attention to the battle.
A Wraith, courtesy of Mark, was gliding around and fending off attacks from the dragon. I was relieved to see that Scarlet and Hunter were frantically waving their wands above Sydney, and she was beginning to stir. She would probably be back in the fray soon. Victoria and Jasmine both used various spells to hit random spots on the dragon, but since none of them had any affect it didn't do much good. Rowan rushed over to meet Vanessa, who was just getting dizzily to her feet off of the Sunbird's back. Seth and Mary each had hands on Mary's wand, both trying to wrestle it from the other's grasp.
Just then, Seth let go of the wand abruptly and Mary, unable to stop the force of her pull, had to let go of it and let it fly behind her, twirling into the air. As fate would have it, the Skeletal Dragon just so happened to be leaning down at that moment. The wand flew straight into its forehead.
Much to the shock of everyone in the room, the dragon let out an ear-piercing shriek and jerked back, clutching its skull. I thought I saw it crack slightly.
This made me skeptical. How had one little wand caused so much pain to such a large monster..?
Suddenly realizing something, I raised my wand to test my theory. Not willing to perform anything more complicated, I conjured up my normal wand spell – just a simple concentrated bolt of Ice magic. I aimed at its head and fired.
My suspicions were confirmed as the bolt hit hard and the dragon cowered in pain. He actually was getting hurt there. He wasn't invincible as we'd feared.
That gave me an idea.
"Everyone! Seekers!" I shouted. "Listen! We need to combine our powers. Aim for its head – I think it's weaker there!"
My friends all murmured in agreement. Most of them had seen the dragon's pain as well and had likely come to the same conclusion as me. Mary, who had been watching the scene perplexed, snapped back to attention and rushed to grab her wand. We ignored her.
It was time to end this, and nothing would stop us.
Ten wands – two Ice, two Fire, two Life, and one for Death, Myth, Storm, and Balance – pointed at exactly the same spot, fierce looks of determination in their wielders' eyes.
"Ready?" I called.
I received solemn nods in response.
"When I say go," I ordered. "One..."
"You fools!" Malistaire boomed. His voice was amplified by the dark magic that encased his body as he controlled the Skeletal Dragon, and he sounded almost inhuman, his words echoing and hollow. "Nothing can stop me! I am the most powerful wizard in the Spiral. Once I remove you, I'll be even more unstoppable."
"Two," I yelled. To my friends' credit, they hadn't moved an inch, even throughout Malistaire's speech. Mary, her wand reclaimed, was watching with wide eyes. Surely she'd realized what was about to happen... but she did nothing to stop it.
"Give up! There is no weakness. If you do not stop this nonsense, I will crush you mercilessly."
"One..." I gritted my teeth, feeling the mana within my body bubbling with anticipation, conjuring up every ounce of power I could find in preparation for the final blow.
The Skeletal Dragon raised its hands. "Very well," Malistaire said coldly. "Now you'll die. How does it feel, knowing you all failed? Your lives were all wasted. Now say goodbye as I–"
In unison, ten multi-colored bolts of magic shot into the air, meeting a perfect, sharp point. It slammed into the undead dragon's head with absolute precision.
For a second, everything was still. A brilliant light covered the room.
Then Malistaire screamed, his lament mixing with the Skeletal Dragon's roar. The dragon raised its hands above its head, and I took in a sharp breath. If it brought those down, we'd all be crushed. Someone needed to do something.
I needed to do something...
Before I even realized what I was doing, I twirled my wand and drew–
The Death symbol?
Faster than the eye could follow, black lightning shot out of my wand, crackling on a path toward Malistaire. He gasped as it hit him, and his face screwed up with pain. He opened his mouth as though to cry out, but no sound came. At last, he and the Skeletal Dragon fell over, crumpling to the ground. The dragon slowly dissolved in wispy splatters of weightless dust, vanishing piece by piece.
Silence permeated the air.
"What... in the Spiral... was that?" Hunter breathed.
My friends and I let out big huffs of air that we hadn't realized we'd been holding. Mark chuckled quietly.
"Well... interesting..." he muttered.
"Is he...?" Victoria questioned.
I took a hesitant step forward, looking back toward Malistaire. However, someone was already there.
Mary, tears in her eyes, stood up from her position next to Malistaire, staring me directly in the eyes. "Yes. He's dead." Then her expression hardened – but, incredibly, she turned around and furiously mumbled, "I can't believe... he intervened! He must have planned this whole thing!" She sounded angry... but not at me...
Then, with a shower of sparks, Mary teleported away.
"Um... what was that about?" Sydney asked uneasily.
I shrugged, about to verbally reply when a gasp, so similar to Malistaire's pain-filled breaths earlier, caught my attention with a jolt of horror. I rushed to Jasmine's side, all nine of my friends following swiftly as she sank to the ground, clutching her head.
"Jasmine!" Victoria shouted, pushing her way through the crowd. "What's... what– agh!" Much to our shock, she suddenly collapsed too.
"No!" I frantically spotted my sister in the crowd. "Rowan, you're a healer. They're hurt! You need to–"
To my astonishment, Jasmine began to laugh. "No, no... I... I remember!"
"You...?" Then it clicked. Victoria and Jasmine had been in an accident in Marleybone that erased their memories. It had been caused by Malistaire, so maybe, just maybe...
I was jerked from my thoughts by the sounds of someone teleporting, then a joyful, tear-filled cry of, "MARK!"
I stared at the boy in question as the two people who'd teleported embraced him in a tight hug. The expression on his face was a mixture of shock, disbelief, and embarrassment.
"Mark! Oh, Mark!" the woman clutching him sobbed, soaking his dark robes. "Thank goodness, you're okay!"
"M... Mom?" a bewildered Mark whispered tentatively. I now recognized these people: they were his parents, Autumn and Alex. I'd seen them in the Crevice of Time, though now they were older and seemed to care about Mark a lot more than before.
"Where in the Spiral have you been?" his father demanded, though he sounded more relieved than upset. "Your little sister was spouting nonsense about you going off to fight Malistaire. We thought you'd just been telling her stories... but then you didn't come back..."
Still standing stiffly in his mother's arms, he mumbled, "I thought you didn't care about me..."
Autumn burst into a fresh round of tears. "I know we acted like it, and we're sorry! Today I realized just how terrible I'd feel if anything happened to you. Please, forgive me!"
I glanced at my friends as Mark and his parents continued to exchange long-overdue apologies. Victoria and Jasmine appeared to have recovered and both had wide grins on their faces. Sydney, I noticed, was watching me expectantly. She took in a deep breath. "Okay, I'm ready."
"Ready for what?"
She removed them fire crystal necklace that the dragon had given her from so long ago, throwing it to the side. She took out her wand.
I gaped. "Sydney, what are you doing? You can't cast spells without fire crystals nearby!"
"I know," she said, "but I'm going to try anyway. Look–" She pointed at Victoria. "–her life was affected by dark magic when she lost her memory. His life–" She pointed at Mark. "–was affected by being the only Death wizard in his family and feeling like an outcast." She took a shuddering breath. "Don't you see? Victoria got her memory back. Mark's parents accepted him at last. I think... I think that since we killed Malistaire, the dark magic is wearing off." She raised her wand. "Everyone, stand back. I'm going to cast Fire Cat, but last time..." She grimaced. "Things got pretty bad."
We all followed her advice and stepped back, giving her a wide berth. Then she closed her eyes, drew the Fire symbol with a flourish, and activated it.
A beautiful Fire Cat with glowing fur crouched in front of Sydney, looking ready to pounce. It stood frozen for a moment.
Suddenly, a jolt of movement made us all gasp and step away, afraid that Sydney wouldn't be able to control it. It didn't lunge toward us, though... it went straight towards its master.
I heard someone cry Sydney's name – probably Hunter – as the Fire Cat tackled her to the ground. I started rushing forward, but then–
I halted, stunned by the noise, staring at my friend lying on the floor. Instead of tearing her apart, the Fire Cat was... licking her?
Sydney giggled even more. Something about the scene made me smile. It was almost familiar. It kind of reminded me of...
"My turn!" Hunter burst out, shifting all attention to himself... but he was no longer there. He'd teleported away before we could see him, reappearing halfway across the room next to Sydney, who had sat up and was now petting the Fire Cat. "YES!" He pounded a fist into the air. "I can teleport again!"
I saw Rowan's eyes widen hopefully as she withdrew her deck, searching for a card. She pulled out the Regenerate spell triumphantly and cast it.
Mister Muffin, appearing nervous at her heels, watched the misty clouds form above Rowan's head. When the giant hand popped out, it looked completely normal (aside from the fact that it was an oversized, disembodied hand).
"Handy!" Rowan screamed, running to where the hand extended a finger low enough for her to hug. It was a very odd sight... but at least Rowan was happy.
I grinned at the room, seeing the excited faces of my friends (except Mark, who still looked awkward as his mother fussed over him). Then I spotted one face that wasn't sharing in the jubilance.
I silently made my way toward Vanessa, sidling up next to her. She glanced at me. "I suppose you've come to ask why I'm not celebrating?" she asked irritably.
I shook my head. "I think I already know."
"No, I don't think you do. It's not just Liam. ...Well, that's a pretty big part of it. But just... just look at everyone! They're all so happy! Their curses have been lifted, but mine never will. You can't bring back the dead."
Looking sympathetic, I said, "You're not the only one."
"Yes, I am! You're not talking about Sir Romeo, are you? Hah! He's a Fire Cat! He can be replaced. I lost my whole family."
I was a bit annoyed by her lack of understanding toward Sydney, but I bit back my annoyance and tried to comfort her. "I wasn't talking about Sir Romeo."
"Then who? Rowan's got Handy back, Sydney's got her spells, Mark's got a family, Hunter's got teleporting, and Victoria's got memory. Everyone's happy."
"You didn't say everyone."
"Jasmine has her memory too, and Seth and Scarlet didn't lose anything."
"But you're forgetting one Seeker."
She looked me in the eyes for a moment, and I saw a flicker of comprehension. "Oh. I'd forgotten that you..."
"It's alright," I sighed. "I can't change the past. I can't regain the time I lost when Malistaire sent me to Earth." I gave her a sympathetic look. "Look, I know that what I went through is probably nothing compared to what you're feeling now... but I'm willing to try understand. Or at least help. I'm so sorry, Vanessa, for what happened to your family..."
She held my gaze for a moment, before dropping her eyes to the floor. "Of course you are. Everyone's sorry. But that won't bring them back, will it?" Despite her cynical words, I was relieved to find that all the bitterness had left her tone, replaced with pure and simple sorrow. "I just wish... sometimes I wish I'd never heard about the Seekers. That... that Liam had never heard about them."
"We all wish that," I said softly. Then, after a brief moment of silence, I said, "Well, maybe you can look on the bright side of things. While you may have lost a lot... you've gained some close friends, right?" I offered a small smile. "We Seekers stick together. And... if you're willing, we'd certainly be willing to become your new family." I glanced up, scanning the room full of the happy, grinning faces of my friends. "It won't be the same, but it might help... maybe. I'm going to go now. Think about what I've said, okay?"
I walked away, leaving her silent and pensive behind me.
I was about to rejoin the celebrations... but some small flash of light in the corner of the room caught my attention. It was a portal. I approached it cautiously, wondering what it could be here for.
And then, out of it stepped the one person I least expected...
My incredulous cry caused my friends to turn toward us, equal expressions of joy and amazement on their faces.
"Where have you been?" I asked, rushing over to him. "Mary said that–"
"I had a slight run-in with Malistaire," he explained. "I didn't appreciate him kidnapping my students. He weakened me quite a bit, trapping me..." He smiled. "But everything still turned out alright." The rest of my friends arrived, just in time to hear him say, "You did well, Seekers. And you three as well, Seth, Scarlet, and Jasmine.
"Oh, Sierra." I blinked at the sound of my name. Merle Ambrose pulled something out of his robe. "I believe this is yours."
He held in his hands a glistening silver necklace with a gorgeous blue gem set into it – a sapphire.
"My... my necklace!" I shrieked with glee. I took it reverently, about to slip it over my head, but I paused halfway.
"Wait. One quick test." I placed the necklace gently on the ground, just in case it was real and my suspicions were simply paranoia. Then I lifted my blue-and-white boot and stepped down hard.
The gem remained perfectly fine; my foot couldn't crush it.
Beaming, I put it back around my neck. It was real – not some fake created by Malistaire. I finally had my sapphire necklace, the wonderful treasure Sydney's awakening's dragon had given me.
It was all over. Finally over.
"I believe you all deserve some kind of reward, don't you think?" still smiling, Merle Ambrose motioned for us to follow him into the still awaiting portal. After hesitating for a moment to wonder if it could be a trap (my gosh, I was becoming way too paranoid), I followed.
I reappeared in Merle Ambrose's office, where Gamma sat by the desk. I was relieved to see him – he'd disappeared along with the headmaster earlier. Eleven others eventually made their way through the portal, crowding in behind me, including the Seekers, my friends, and Mark's parents.
"First," Merle Ambrose began, "I will have badges prepared for you. It's a simple way to let the whole Spiral know of your accomplishment. I do believe they can hold the title... 'Savior of the Spiral'.
"Of course, you'll need more than that – we can't thank you enough!" he murmured. "Hmm..." After a few moments of thought, he snapped his fingers. "Ah! I'll have Victor DarkWood, the tailor in the Shopping District, make you all individual, unique robes specialized for your schools." He paused. "For what I have planned, normally you'd have to be level 50 to wear them, in case you lose control of the magic – you know how that is." He winked. "But I believe I can make exceptions for the Seekers and their closest allies, right? You're all pretty skilled for your levels – I'm certain you can handle it."
All of us nodded vigorously, grinning from ear to ear.
"If you'll excuse me, Merle," a voice spoke up, and I almost jumped in surprise. It was Mark's mother. I'd forgotten that she and her husband were still here. "I'd like to ask: what exactly did theses children do? They didn't... they didn't actually slay Malistaire, did they? The Malistaire?"
I felt a bit of indignation at her lack of faith, but the headmaster spoke up before I could. "I will tell you the whole story. We're just waiting for a few more people to arrive..."
As though it had been waiting for a cue, the door burst opened, and two people rushed inside – two people I knew very well.
"MERLE! Where are they? Where are–" The man talking, who was named Caleb FrostSong, immediately stopped speaking when his eyes laid on me. They shifted to Rowan, and then he sighed with relief.
"What happened to you two?" Angela UnicornRider, known to Rowan and me as "Mom", huffed. "We've been trying to contact you for ages! You didn't come home, and..." She seemed to realize that there were other people in the room. Her gaze landed on Mark and it turned cold. "I remember you. You're that Death boy that influenced or Rowan to break all those rules. If you have anything to do with this, so help me I will–"
"Excuse me! I'm Mark's mother. Is something wrong?"
Mark looked absolutely bewildered that his mom had spoken up for him. "N-No, Mom, it's okay..."
"It is not okay! I don't appreciate people barging in here and accusing my son of something he may not have done."
My mother seemed a bit shocked that this "evil influence" had such an obviously Life-school mom. She shook off her incredulity. "As a matter of fact, he did do something! He convinced my poor daughter to ruin her reputation."
"Geez, all we did was free a few pets at the Shopping District," Rowan grumbled from next to me. "Mom probably wouldn't be so against Mark if that hadn't happened. But she's acting like we robbed a bank or something..."
I knew that Rowan's concept of a "few" pets was quite different from our mom's, so I figured Mom might actually have a reason to be upset.
Just then, a flurry of sparks alerted us to the teleportation of more people. This time I spotted Sydney's parents, Jasmine's father, Seth's parents, and then two other people that I failed to recognize. I was forced to step aside to let them in. The room was very crowded now.
"We came as fast as we could," one of the new men said solemnly. His gaze rested upon Scarlet. "I'm glad to see you. When Merle called me, I was rather shocked. You're not in trouble, are you?"
"No, father," Scarlet sighed.
So that was Scarlet's dad. Then who was...
"Victoria, are you alright?" said a pretty woman with green eyes and a face similar to Victoria. Perhaps that was her mother?
"Ah, wonderful. I think that's everyone now," said the headmaster. I gazed around the crowded room at the huge congregation of people gathered. I was uncomfortably squeezed in between my sister and Sydney, and the multitudes of other people succeeded at boxing me and making it difficult to move.
Therefore, when the headmaster called, "Sierra?" I was forced to stand on my tip-toes and raise a hand, elbowing a few people in the process.
"I'm right here, Professor Ambrose," I announced. He nodded at me and, much to my dismay, motioned for me to come forward. Carefully avoiding any toes, I pushed my way through the throng as gently as I could (which sadly wasn't too gently, but under the circumstances I did well).
"Sierra WinterBreeze," Headmaster Ambrose said dramatically as I arrived next to him at the front of the crowd, more than a bit tired and embarrassed from my trip there. "Ice Seeker of Light and leader of Malistaire's downfall. I believe our story begins with you."
"What story?" I asked. I silently chastised myself for my irritable tone and lack of respect. This was Merle Ambrose, the greatest wizard in the Spiral!
"The story of the Seekers! I think it's about time it was told. Unless you'd prefer we begin with Victoria? With her memories back, I'm sure Miss RavenSmith could start off the story as well..."
Victoria turned red as everyone faced her. "N-No, that's okay, Sierra. You can go."
"Where do I begin?" I wondered, starting to feel slightly overwhelmed by the attention as it shifted away from Victoria and back to me.
"How about when you returned to the Spiral?" Rowan suggested. "On the first day we met?"
I thought back to that day, and I felt a small smile grace my lips. Yeah... that had been in the day when I'd messed with the refrigerator, right? It felt like a lifetime ago...
"Okay." I paused, gathering my thoughts. "So... let's see. It started with Gamma showing up at the orphanage, where I'd grown up on Earth. Something totally unexpected happened to me that day. It was even stranger than any of the things I'd done before. And those were pretty amazing things. Like the time I froze John because I'd glared at him? Or when I turned the swimming pool into ice? Or made that snowman come alive?
"Anyway, I was sitting on the steps of the orphanage. The cold never seemed to bother me – as you all know; I'm a Thaumaturge! So on that cool October day, I sat staring up at the setting sun, when I noticed an owl in the tree in front of me..."
THE TALE OF SIERRA WINTERBREEZE