3. Enemies and Allies
Ica’s breath fogged the air despite it being a fairly warm day. She shivered slightly and rubbed her hands together. Around her people were rushing about in a flurry of chaos and confusion. She stepped methodically around them, taking care not to be bumped or jostled. There was no reason to hurry. He would wait for her. His destiny demanded it be so.
She finally reached the front of the school. Students and teachers continued to stream out and rush past her as an alarm blared. On the upper floor a hole had been blown in the wall. Small specks of plaster continued to drift down into the parking lot below.
A grin spread on her face. “Seems they got started without me.”
Arthur held his sword in front of him and channeled the Light through it. The wind raged around the small school room, tossing furniture and plaster through the air like a twister. A bubble of calm air surrounded Arthur as his Element pushed back against Aer’s. In this test of power and control the two seemed evenly matched, neither able completely overwhelm the other with pure force. Though force was only the beginning of Arthur’s worries. His eyes darted between his opponent, hovering above the floor on the other side of the room, and all the projectiles swirling around him.
Impatience finally won over caution and Arthur charged forward. Aer smiled, seeing her opportunity, and crossed her arms in front of her. The wind shifted, and suddenly every one of those projectiles was headed straight for him. He ducked as an old television flew over his head, and took a glancing blow from the leg of a chair he couldn’t quite get out of the way of. He slashed out in front of him at a chunk of wall that was on a trajectory with his face. It was cut in two, those piece getting flown to the side by force of Arthur’s Light.
He somehow got across the room and within striking range of the floating woman. Focusing on the the tip of the blade of Light, he thrust the sword forward. Aer held her palms forward and raised a barrier of wind around herself. Arthur felt as if he was striking a solid wall, but he had the force, the momentum, and, most importantly, the control. The blade pierced through the barrier and cut through the front of Aer’s robes.
Arthur hesitated. One more step, a lean forward, an outstretch of the arms, and his blade would sink right into Aer’s chest. He had never killed anyone before, or severely hurt anyone on purpose. Once, when sparring with Ai, he had accidentally overextended and cut into her shoulder. Though he had pierced her only a little, the blade had left a searing gash on her. Ai still had the scar. He had known that he would eventually have to confront real enemies, and have to attack with real intention to maim. But there was a difference between knowing something and facing it.
And so he hesitated, just for a moment, but long enough. Wind whipped in from outside, bringing with it dirt and gravel from the lot below, and assailed Arthur’s face. He stumbled back, his eyes stinging, and his mouth and nose filling with dirt. It became hard to breath. He coughed and desperately tried to clear his lungs to catch a breath. He could not see but he was aware that he had lost concentration on the sword. It would have turned back into pure Light the moment his focus wavered.
He was lifted from the ground by the powerful winds. Without the ability to focus he couldn’t bring his Light into form to defend himself. He was powerless as he went flying into the room’s door. He crashed through it, hitting it with such force that it splintered off its hinges, and skidded across the ground in the hallway behind.
Arthur rubbed his eyes but the world remained blurry. He spat dirt and struggled back to his feet.
“Is this really the best our Master’s enemies have to offer?” The blurry form of Aer floated near the broken door. “I was told to beware of Light Elementalists. They were supposed be the fiercest, the most experienced, the most dedicated. But this is the truth of matter? An untested child blindly swinging a glowing sword?” She scoffed. “Pathetic.”
Arthur’s pride felt more wounded than his body. “I had you! If I had wanted to, I could have -”
“But you didn’t.” Up and down the hallway windows came bursting open as a strong wind began to flood in. “Being an Elementalist is about more than just throwing force at one another. It is about resolve. You lack it, and so you will never defeat someone like me.”
Arthur felt himself being lifted again. After experiencing how much force Aer could toss him with, he knew he wouldn’t survive if he was thrown into something more solid. His focus was still unsteady but when he reached out he could feel the flow of the Light through him. He couldn’t impel it into solid form, but he could channel it. Shutting his eyes and shifting his concentration inward, he forced as much of the Light to flow through him as his body could handle.
Without a proper form the Light couldn’t physically harm anyone. With as much as he was channeling it sure did get bright, though. Arthur’s body shone like a spotlight. A spotlight directed straight at Aer.
Aer let out a surprised yelp and tried to shield her eyes. She dropped to the ground and stumbled back into the club room.
Arthur found his feet and rushed to use the wall next to the doorway as cover. He braced himself against it and caught his breath. His vision had mostly cleared, and with it he felt his focus returning.
“I think we’re even now,” he called. “You went for my eyes, I went for yours.”
He contemplated his next move. There was always the dragon. But if he lost control of it here, there’s no telling the amount of damage he could do to the school, or how many students could be hurt.
Arthur was expecting some kind of response but was met only with silence. After steeling his nerve he darted through the broken doorway.
The room was empty. All debris that had tossed around the room had settled to a corner. Several sheets of paper drifted through the air, caught in the light breeze that came through the hole in the wall. Aer was nowhere to be seen. And if she wasn’t here…
She was going after the student!
Arthur swore and bolted towards the stairwell.
“You sure you’re alright?” Sam asked. “Looks like you’re bleeding a lot.”
Peter wiped some blood from a cut on the side of his face. “You need to get out more if you think this is bad. I’ve taken worse during practice.”
Despite his tough attitude, Sam couldn’t help but notice that Peter was having trouble keeping up with him as they rushed through to the school’s entrance. He couldn’t remember a single time that Peter hadn’t been a step ahead of him.
“Kind of disappointed we didn’t stay to see how that fight panned out,” Peter said. “How often are you going to get front-row seats to a fight between a wind witch and a paladin? We had one, and we wussed-out.”
“Paladin?” Sam asked.
“He summoned a glowing sword. What would you call him?”
“I guess,” Sam conceded. “I’m more curious about that wind-chick. Seems like she was after me, after all.”
“You pissed off any powerful wizards lately, Fariman?”
“Only with a d-20.”
The school was seemingly empty by this point, cleared by the blaring alarm. Sam wished he had paid more attention during the emergency evacuation drills; he might have remembered a closer exit. They were almost to the front now, anyway. They turned into the main hallway, just a straight run to the main entrance …
And came face-to-face to the floating, robed woman.
“We’ve wasted enough time,” she said in her cold manner. “I’ll make you a deal: you come with me now and I won’t kill your little friend.”
Sam froze. His instinct was to run in the opposite direction but Peter was injured. And now Aer had just threatened his friend’s life.
Peter acted first. He stood protectively in front of Sam. “Run, Fariman! I’ll slow her down!”
How could he do that? Sam felt a chill just thinking about abandoning his friend to die. Or was that something else? Now that he thought about it, this hall was suddenly very cold.
His breath misted and he watched as frost rapidly spread across the walls of the hall. He followed it with his eyes back towards it source.
Back behind Aer another woman was slowly walking down the hallway. She was short and slight, at first glance Sam thought she could be one of the students until her face gave her away as a more mature woman. Her mid-cut hair was a stark white, not the kind of gray-white that comes from age, but the kind of punkish-white you might see in an 80’s dystopia movie. Her outfit added to this impression, black and bright pink and cut tight to her form.
Aer noticed the sudden change in temperature as well and spun around. It was too late. Ice reached out from the ground like a hand and encased Aer’s legs.
“Sorry,” the new arrival said in a strange accent that Sam couldn’t place. “He’s not quite ready yet, and I can’t have anything happen to him until he is. You’re just going to have to wait.”
“My master isn’t very patient,” Aer said, her cold calm giving way to frustration.
The ice around her shattered, sending shards flying in all directions. She leveled her arms towards the white-haired woman and a powerful blast of wind shot forth. Lockers were sent flying by the sheer force.
A wall of ice appeared between the two women. Lockers crashed against it and the wind beat upon it. The wall stood strong.
Sam and Peter were so captured by this display of magic they did not notice Arthur rushing towards them until he called out to them.
“Hey, are you two alright?” Arthur looked at the scene in front of them. Aer was struggling to blast away spikes of ice that were appearing from the ceiling and floor. “What is happening here?”
“An ice-mage joined the fight,” Peter said, matter-of-factually.
“You there!” the white haired woman called out. Her focus was on Arthur. “You’re one of the protectors, are you not?” She did not wait for a response. “I will entrust the boy to you for now. Take care of him until he is ready.”
Arthur was stunned. Ryu had told him that they would not be the only ones fighting back against the forces of the Dark God, but he had not expected to run into another so quickly. Especially not one seemingly so powerful. “Who are you?”
“My name is Ica. Our interests are aligned, for the moment.”
Aer, her cool completely lost, shouted, “The kid is coming with me!”
She leveled her arms once again. Before she could create another blast of wind, walls of ice appeared on every side of her.
“Leave the loud one to me,” Ica said. “Take the boy to safety.”
Considering everything he had seen today, Arthur was in no mood to argue. “Follow me.”
Sam exchanged a look with Peter. “Should we go with him?”
“Better than staying here. Lead the way, sword-guy.”
As they walked past Ica towards the school’s entrance, Sam was aware of her attention on him. “We will meet again, Sam Fariman.”
“When did you suddenly get so popular with women?” Peter asked.
Sam didn’t respond. Something about the way Ica said his name unsettled him deeply. Or perhaps it was the fact that she knew his name at all.
Arthur led them out of the school. Outside it was chaotic mess of students, teachers, and faculty whom, in the face of an actual emergency, seemed to have forgotten all the procedures of the school’s fire drills. There were several police cars and ambulances parked at the edge of the crowds, and uniformed officers were fighting their way through the crowds. Sam considered rushing towards them. Peter was injured, after all.
But he had a feeling the police were unequipped for what was going on in the school. If that Aer woman came for him again they could not protect him. He needed answers, what these powers were and why so many people were after him. Arthur could provide him with those answers. And he seemed like he was one of the good guys.
Sam sure hoped he was right about that.
They followed Arthur around the side of the school, away from the crowds, and towards the street. Only when they had gotten some distance from the school did they speak again.
“I’m going to take you to a place where you will be safe from the people hunting you,” Arthur said. “I’m sure you have many questions. My teacher will explain everything once we get there.” He then looked to Peter. “Only he is a target. You should go back to the school and get someone to look at those cuts.”
“You’re not taking Fariman anywhere without me,” Peter declared. “For all I know, you want to lead him to some dark dungeon somewhere.”
“And you could protect me from that?” Sam jibed.
“No, but at least if we are locked in a dungeon together we could talk about dumb shit for hours.”
Taking one person with him through the void was tough enough, taking two would be near impossible. Then again, Fariman possessed a fragment of the Dark God inside of him. With the added power it might be possible.
“Fine,” Arthur said. “But don’t blame me if you’re bored out of your mind on the farm.”
“Farm?” Sam and Peter said in near unison.
“You’ll see. But first, we need to walk into the middle of this street.”
Aer flew above the school, above the crowds, above the streets and the buildings. She had finally been let go by that Ica woman. As much as she hated to admit to herself that she had, in fact, been ‘let go.’ She had been clearly outmatched that entire time. Never before had she encountered a Water Elementalist who could use ice like that. She didn’t know whether Ica had just gotten bored or decided she had given the kid enough of a head start but at some point she had just walked away from the fight.
It didn’t matter. She could travel quickly by flying. Wherever the kid had gone, she would find him.
She flew high into the sky and opened up her senses to the air currents around her. They brought with them information to those who knew how to decipher it. The smells of people, of animals, of dirt and grime, of cars and industry. She blocked out everything except for the signs of the kid she was chasing. What had Ica called him, again? Sam Fariman?
The trail was there…but something was off about it. She followed it away from the school and down a nearby street. There the trail just … vanished. She was certain he gone this way. There was also a trail of the Light Elementalist and the scent of blood from the friend. It went into the street and then was just gone.
She flew higher into the sky and expanded the field of the currents. If the student was anywhere within ten miles she would sense him. After a few minutes she realized that somehow they had escaped her.
This would not be good for her.
She landed on a nearby rooftop to take a moment to go through her options. How long did she have before her mission was considered a failure? What would been done to her once her master had realized she had failed? She did not have to wait long for an answer.
The wind picked up around her without her command. It blew straight past her face, thundering in her ears. She cupped her hands over her ears but she couldn’t drown it out.
You have let him escape. We can not get to him now.
“No!” she screamed back at the howling winds. “I can find him! I just need a little more time!”
Time you have. Do not return without the boy. Until we have him, you are no longer one of us.
With that the wind died down. Aer doubled over, breathing heavily and trying to control her rising panic. She had gone out on this mission with the intention of proving just how valuable she was. Now she had made a fool of herself.
But this was not the end. She had worked too hard, sacrificed too much, killed too many people for her to just give up now. She would be by the Dark God’s side upon his return.
Wherever Sam Fariman had run and disappeared to, he could not hide forever.
Two men wearing black, military style uniforms with the letters “ECT” stitched in bold, white letters on the back made their way with no resistance through the crowds in front of the school. The confused mass of students and worried parents parted before them like they were a royal procession. At the same time no one seemed to be being attention to them. They walked around them, looked away from, moved away from them, but no one looked directly at them. Or at the cloud of mist that seemed to follow them.
The taller of the two frowned as he surveyed the visible damage done to the school building from outside. “What were they thinking, fighting in broad daylight like that?” He adjusted the black fedora he always insisted on wearing. It and his black tie clashed with his uniform. “When was the last time we had an incident like this without a Fire Element involved?”
“There was that incident in Russia two years ago,” the smaller man said. His uniform was wrinkled, as always, which added to the disheveled appearance provided by his bed-head and ungroomed whiskers. “That Earth Element leveled an entire major roadway.”
“At least with Earth Elements it is easy to blame on earthquakes. Explaining intense, localized winds, and flying women is a little trickier.”
The shorter man scratched his thick bed of messy hair. “Well, that’s why I am here.”
They found the officer in charge of the scene receiving a report from one of his men.
“Doesn’t look like there are any major injuries,” the cop reported. “We think the room was empty when the detonation occurred. We’ll need to get the bomb squad in there to looks for signs of an explosive device. The weird part is the first floor hallway, sir. Not only are there signs of secondary blasts, well, it’s completely iced over. It’s like Christmas in July over there.”
Neither of the officers noticed the two uniformed men approach them, or the cloud of mist that was settling over them.
The lead officer grumbled. “Well, considering we have been getting reports of people flying away from the scene, maybe we are dealing with Santa Claus.”
The shorter man leaned in close the lead officers ear and whispered. “This was clearly an accident. A gas leak, a spark, an air conditioner on the fritz. You see it every day. Everything else is just mass hysteria.”
There was a momentary pause as the lead officer processed his sudden idea. “You can let the bomb squad do its thing,” he said. “Better safe than sorry, but I doubt they will find anything. This was almost certainly a gas leak. You see it all the time. Blast probably caused the air conditioner to go crazy.”
“I guess that makes sense,” the reporting cop said.
The two uniformed men walked past the officers, who parted unknowingly for them, and walked into the school building to take a look at the damages themselves and make sure the scene plays out the way they want. There might not be a gas leak in the school now, but there would be when they were done.
“Ice, huh?” the smaller man said. “Kairi is not going to like hearing that.”
“Maybe she doesn’t have to know.”
“I guess we’ll leave it up to the boss to decide, eh?”
The taller man sighed as the passed the section of hall covered in ice and broken lockers. This would be a tougher story to craft than he first thought. “Let’s worry about one problem at a time.”
“This morning, I thought my biggest problem today was going to be having to deal with Marcus’s weird idea of food.”
They reached the scene of the main battle. Several officers were moving in and out of the small room. None of them paid any attention to two ECT members.
“Biggest problem right now is to figure out who fought here and bring them in for questioning.” The taller man walked up to a pile of potential evidence the police were collecting and picked up a straw hat.
“Or, if they resist, take them out before they can do any more damage.”