|A remote part of me perceived little pieces of information that somehow I could not put together. Nothing gave me a clue at where I was. Nothing seemed definite. The floor would be cold one second, and then searing hot the next, and hard, then plushy and soft. There was some kind of sound around me, but each was different – I could have been in a thunderstorm as much as a peaceful forest.
I think I laid there for almost an hour, but there’s really no way to tell. All I know is that I didn’t stir until I heard a real sound – not the faint, ever-changing ones that I had been hearing thus far. In fact, it sounded like words. Talking.
I groaned – even though the last thing I remembered was teleporting, something else must have happened. I felt stiff, like I couldn’t move, and I was sore all over. A familiar voice instructed, “Stay still,” and I complied. Almost instantly I felt better and opened my eyes.
What I saw would have terrified me, if I hadn’t recognized the faces of the ghostly figures standing over me: Christopher BattleSword, Taryn WildHeart, and Zachary DreamMender, the Past Seekers of Death, Balance, and Life respectively. Zachary had his wand out. At least I thought it was a wand. It was very intricate, with many designs on it, looking awfully advanced. Still, most Masters and Grandmasters I knew used staves and swords, not wands.
Zachary sighed with relief. “Thank Bartleby. We didn’t think you’d make it.”
I scanned the room, and realized that it was the Spiral Tower. But it didn’t impress me like last time. Everything felt so dull and surreal, as if I were still unconscious.
“It really wouldn’t be good if we lost you,” Zachary continued. “Right now, you’re the only leader the Seekers have. And you might be your friends’ only hope.”
Now that I was beginning to become more fully aware of my surroundings, I knew something had to be wrong. Something wasn’t right; I was sure of it.
Zachary was looking at me with concern. “Are you all right? Can you speak?”
“I… I’m fine,” I managed. Another thing I noticed that was strange: the Past Seekers looked false, too. “What’s wrong?”
Zachary frowned. “What do you mean?”
“I think she’s wondering why we’re like this. Don’t you remember? I told you that the only place we can be solid is the Woods of the Past. Everywhere else we’re ghosts,” Taryn explained.
One question answered. But I still had loads of others. “Where are we?” I sat up. I tried blinking numerous times to make everything seem clearer, but it didn’t help.
“You have been to the Spiral Tower, right?”
I nodded. Oh, so then maybe I was just paranoid…
“Well, this isn’t it.”
“It isn’t?” I gasped, confused.
“No. This tower is made by dark magic. We must be careful,” Taryn said.
“It looks just like it, though!” I frowned. “But something is different.” I shook my head. “Never mind. I’m not making any sense. I think my head is still messed up from when I was knocked out. Everything seems so hazy.”
“It’s not only you. It looks that way to me, too,” Zachary uneasily agreed.
“And me,” Taryn added.
“Same here,” Christopher sighed.
“Did Mary send me here?” I inquired.
“Probably,” Taryn said. “I’m sure she teleported you here, but you were rendered unconscious by the dark power surrounding this place.” She frowned slightly. “It’s strange. We can leave and enter this place freely by teleporting, but when we tried to take you with us, nothing happened. You’re stuck here. You and the other Seekers.”
“I’m s-stuck?” I repeated. “But… why?”
She shook her head. “We have no idea.”
I groaned, and finally stood. “Could the reason that you can leave be because you’re ghosts?”
“Maybe. But I doubt it.”
“What about the other Seekers? You mentioned them. They’re here, too?”
“Not exactly,” Taryn replied.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“They’re trapped in copies of… of the places you were awakened. Dragon Mouth Cave, Castle of Rain, Pyramid of the Moon… they’ve all been replicated,” Christopher said.
“I’m guessing Jasmine, Seth, and Scarlet are trapped there, as well, aren’t they?” I muttered, more to myself than them. Taryn nodded anyway.
“Well, this is just wonderful.” The sarcasm in my voice was quite obvious. I glared at my surroundings. Would this nefarious copy be my prison?
Then, for the first time I saw a flaw in this replica. The Spiral doors I had seen last time were not there, but there was one single, lonely window right where they had been. “What’s that?” I asked, striding over to it.
“I wouldn’t touch anything,” Zachary warned.
I ignored him and peered out the window. What I saw gave me a small hope that I wasn’t really trapped. Outside, it looked just like inside a Spiral door – nothing but emptiness, stretching out forever.
To my surprise, there was no kind of glass on the window. I leaned over and a thought crossed my mind. A crazy one, but it gave me hope…
“What are you doing?” Christopher demanded.
I climbed over the side of the window, my legs dangling perilously over the side. “This may be the only chance I get,” I said. I turned away, looking down at where I was about to fall. “If I don’t come back, will you, um… tell my family? Not just about this, but about being a Seeker, too.”
“Sierra! Don’t do this. There’s another way out of here. I’m sure of it,” Taryn reasoned.
I glanced at her pleading face for a moment before I said, “I’m sorry. I have to do this. I have to save my friends.”
With those words, I pushed myself off the edge and plunged down into nothingness.
Falling into emptiness isn’t nearly as exciting as you would think.
There was no way of measuring how long I fell, if time even existed in a place like this. There wasn’t any wind rushing around me, intriguingly enough, but I still could feel myself moving somehow. It was like I wasn’t actually seeing anything, but rather sensing it. Still, I was too stunned for the most part to think about any of this. For a while, the only thoughts I had were about how maybe this wasn’t as wonderful, heroic, and brave as much as it was stupid.
Eventually, I felt something approaching. It’s not hard to perceive something when there’s been a whole lot of nothing for so long. But it was still impossible to truly “see” anything beneath me. If it was beneath me at all. I’d lost all sense of direction quite a while back.
Before I knew it, I had slammed into something solid. I gasped, my breath temporarily stolen by the impact. But I wasn’t hurt.
I stood when I was able to and looked up from where I had fallen. There was a strange rocky ceiling, making me wonder where I could be.
When I scanned the area, I caught my breath, realizing this place was familiar. This was Dragon Mouth Cave.
At first I felt like jumping for joy. It worked! I was back in Wizard City!
Unfortunately, like everything else good that happens to me, it didn’t last long.
I rushed back to the exit of the cave, only to find that it was locked. It wasn’t even like when Sydney had been awakened, where everything was frozen; there was only blackness outside, like the nothingness I had fallen from. Surprised, I clasped my hands around the bars, then sighed and sunk to the ground. Of course. I was still trapped.
Now that I looked more carefully, I could still tell that everything looked unclear. I was getting used to it. Weird.
So I was still in some kind of fake world, apparently. Why was I in Dragon Mouth Cave though?
Almost at that exact moment, I heard a scream of terror, like someone feared their life was endangered. I knew the feeling.
I hurried back into the cave, only to find the same scene as before.
Except the dragon statue was gone.
My heart temporarily stopped. Images and emotions from Sydney’s awakening came back to be in a shocking wave. The petrified Golem Court; a roaring dragon statue; and my best friend’s limp body falling through the air.
This time, though, there was no rumbling, no roaring, no Sydney, and nothing but silence. Besides the scream I had heard earlier, the place seemed unperturbed.
There was another oddly different factor here. Where the dragon statue used to be, there was a small cave tunnel, just large enough for a person to crawl into.
Curious and really without any other options, I crouched and entered the narrow tunnel.
Bit by bit it widened, until I found myself in an enormous room. Torches lined the walls, lighting up the area with an almost eerie, flickering light.
Another scream resounded in the cavern. This time it was easier to determine where it was coming from. I sped toward it.
As I proceeded through another hallway-like part of the cave (which, fortunately, was much wider than the last one) I started to hear panting noises, and then speaking. Upon getting closer, they made words. They were muffled, shaky, breathless, and utterly terrified, but definitely words. “Stay… away!” the voice gasped, still breathing heavily. “I know… Fire magic… and I…” An odd growling cut off the voice, and there was another scream, causing me to wince.
Seemingly suddenly, the tunnel broke off into a room once more. In front of me was a perplexing scene – and by perplexing, I mean totally horrifying. Two girls were huddled in a corner. One had her wand held out protectively in front of her, and the other hid behind the first one’s back.
And I knew them.
Sydney JadeHammer… Jasmine IceFlame…
Worst of all, in front of Sydney and Jasmine were the most bizarrely appalling two monsters that I can barely begin to describe. They seemed to be always changing, shifting shapes all the time. Every time I thought I had identified what it was, it transformed again, making me wonder if I had really seen anything. Besides their shape, they were black – pitch black, as if every form of color and life in that area had suddenly been sucked away. The darkness was always coiling with the changing states, like a writhing, misty smoke, searching for prey. I wondered that if you got close enough, if it would drag you in and you’d be lost forever.
I wanted to call out to my friends, but I hesitated. No one had heard me enter – not the creatures, not Sydney, not Jasmine. If I called out, that would change. So instead of drawing attention to myself and facing the wrath of the enemies, I gradually made my way toward them, all the while searching my deck for the perfect card.
I was just coming up behind the monsters. Planning to attempt to catch them off-guard, I raised up my wand and the card I had selected.
“SIERRA!” Jasmine screamed with delight.
I jumped at the noise. The words echoed around the narrow cave: “Sierra! Sierra! Sierra!” I was startled enough that I stumbled backward slightly, and apparently that was enough to announce my presence.
They turned around and snarled, and for a moment one looked remarkably like a Wraith.
“Watch out!” Sydney called. The thing lunged for me. I only had just enough time to leap out of the way. Unfortunately I found myself colliding with the other one. It was unexpectedly solid, not a strange inward-sucking vortex thingy. Well, what do you know?
I started scampering in the other direction. With a quick scan of the room, I didn’t see Sydney or Jasmine. I sighed with relief – if they weren’t here, they were safe.
“Hey!” I glanced behind me and groaned. Sydney was there, and in front of her was an enormous bird made of fire – a Phoenix.
The monsters growled again and ceased chasing me, turning to Sydney’s Phoenix.
“No! Hey, big, ugly, whatever-you-are’s! I’m over here! Look at me!” I shouted, waving my arms to get their attention.
They registered the Phoenix as a larger threat, or maybe as more satisfying prey. Either way, they ignored me.
I watched a battle ensue. The Phoenix flew around the cavern, dodging the creatures’ wild lunges. After a while of a deadly game in which the creatures continuously jumped and failed to catch the Phoenix, the things transformed again. This time, instead of the constant, subtle changes, it was very obvious that their form was shifting. From its “back” sprouted grotesque, black wings, as black as the rest of its body. It leaped into the air and snarled. Realizing the danger Sydney’s Phoenix was in, I whipped out my own spell card and summoned an Ice Wyvern, the only thing I could offer.
My Wyvern lent aid by sending up beams of ice. It didn’t help much; the evasive creatures were good a dodging. While Sydney concentrated on sending commands to her Phoenix, Jasmine and I conjured up as many shields as we had – after all, weren’t Thaumaturges masters of defense? The only problem was that there was no way of knowing the creatures’ types – if they had one. Jasmine had a Death shield, and she put it up – but the thing went right through it, not even stopping. The only thing that seemed to work even moderately well was a Tower Shield, but that, of course, didn’t help beyond hindering the creatures.
Without any warning whatsoever, the creatures stopped. Both of them, right in mid-air. Just like that. One second they were frantically pursuing Sydney’s Phoenix and the next they were frozen. Its wings weren’t even moving, bringing up the question of how it was still in the air. The Phoenix turned around, hovering hesitantly next to its former enemies. The three of us on the ground were also surprised, staring in shocked. I opened my mouth to speak, probably along the lines of, “What the HECK just happened?” but I was interrupted by a whooshing sounds, as if a large gust of wind had just passed by. Right before our very eyes, the things began to disappear. Actually, they were disintegrating into little tan colored pieces. When they were completely turned into some sort of tan-ish blob, the pieces fell to the ground. I walked over its remains and picked it up. “It’s sand,” I said softly.
A voice boomed around the cave. “Is that the best you can do?” All three of us glanced around wildly, trying to find the source. The voice, which seemed to come from everywhere at once, chuckled. “Are you truly this foolish? You will not find me, until you are ready to face me. I would have expected more from the Seekers of Light, and one of their closest allies.”
“F-face you?” Jasmine stammered. “Like… fight you?”
“Perhaps,” the voice said. “It depends on how far you get. If you demonstrate the same lack of talent you have shown so far, I highly doubt that, even if you survive these challenges, it would be a fair fight.”
“But who are you?” I demanded. “How do you know about the Seekers?” I felt crazy, screaming at the walls.
I got an answer, but not the one I hoped for. “Maybe you will find out someday. But that’s not for right now.”
I felt another wave of anger. “Okay, fine,” I muttered. “We won’t see you. Can you please tell us where we are? Or what that thing was? Or how in the Spiral we can get out?”
To my surprise, I actually got a straight answer, not some cryptic riddle like you’d expect from a disembodied voice. “The thing that attacked you? That was a Shadow Beast,” the voice said quietly. “Quite ferocious, but easy to create and tame, if you know how. As for where we are? Don’t you know already? This is Dragon Mouth Cave. You were here for your friend’s awakening.”
I don’t know why, but this guy was really starting to bug me. “You haven’t answered my last question. How do we get out?”
“Ah, yes. I’d imagine you’d want to go now, right? Leave and sleep in your warm beds in your home? But you must remember – you still have your friends out there. To be specific: Seth GoldenBlood.”
I gasped. “Yeah! Where?”
“Defeat the other four Shadow Beasts. You will save him if you can survive. This time you were lucky – I couldn’t bear to see you fail to soon. But next time I cannot help you.” Suddenly the voice was menacing, and I almost took a step back, despite the fact I couldn’t even see who I was speaking to.
“Okay,” I said, although nothing was making sense. He wanted us to defeat one of those huge black monsters? This was ridiculous.
“Very well. Then enter this portal.”
There was a flash of blue light in front of us. The light remained contained in a floating blue disk. I knew that all I had to do was step forward and I would end up someplace new. Maybe it would even lead to Seth. There was just one looming problem…
“Is it safe?” Jasmine put my thoughts to words.
“Who cares?” Sydney shot back, stepping forward. “From what I’ve seen, anything would be better than here.”
I smiled. It was good to have her back, even if she sounded like she was a little grumpy. “Yeah, you’re probably right,” I agreed. “So I can assume you’re going first, Sydney?” I grinned.
Her shoulders slumped. “Um… no, that’s okay,” she said, backing down. “You can go first.”
“That’s what I thought. I know you’ve probably been through a lot and learned more about so-called ‘Shadow Beasts’ than you ever wanted to know, but it’s not like we’re having a relaxing vacation here. Don’t take it out on us, okay?”
She stared at me. “Um… got it…” She shook her head. “You’ve changed, Sierra.”
“You’re more… mature? No, that’s not it. More problem-solving. I think you make a great Seeker leader.”
I grimaced. “Really?”
“Don’t think of it like that,” she said, softly chuckling. “It’s a good thing.” She turned to the portal. “So I’m first, am I?” She took in a deep breath. “Then I’ll see you on the other side… I guess. I hope.”
She stepped forward and disappeared.
Jasmine looked at me fearfully. “After you,” I told her.
She gave me one forlorn look and shut her eyes and was taken away by the portal.
Just as I was about to follow, there was a sucking noise… and suddenly the portal was no longer there.
I didn’t panic at first. I blinked a few times, thinking I may be hallucinating. Then I spun around, scanning the cavern, like I thought the portal might have moved. But it was nowhere to be seen. It was gone.
This is where the “freaking out” part comes in.
Just when I was about to do something absolutely crazy, the same voice from before came back. “Do not fear. Another portal is coming.”
A wave of relief washed over me.
“It will take you to the next Seeker and your friend Seth. And the next Shadow Beast.” The voice paused. “You friends will be waiting for your return.”
That didn’t make sense. “My return?” I questioned.
“For you to come back. They will wait in the Spiral Tower.”
“You mean the fake one, though, don’t you? I knew it! I knew this was all some evil plot!” I growled, throwing my hands into the air with frustration. “Why don’t you just turn us in now? You’re working for Malistaire! You’re just trying to separate us!”
“Do not make false accusations, Sierra. I’m not working for Malistaire.”
“Then whose side are you on? I need Sydney and Jasmine, and they need me.”
“We are giving them protection. Is this not what you wanted for them?”
I was so upset and confused that I didn’t even notice the voice had said “we.” Meaning it had allies.
The voice continued, “There are more than two sides to everything. I am on no side but my own. You could say I am neutral, although that’s not entirely true. I have my own opinions on this matter. I have friends and enemies on both of your sides.”
“But why are you helping me? I’m not talking about the rest of them. Are you my friend… or enemy?”
There was silence, and I feared the voice had left me all alone. Then it spoke up, “A friend, I believe, but not for long.” A portal appeared in front of me. “Now go. Your other friends need you more than I do.”
So do Jasmine and Sydney, I wanted to say, but I didn’t. Instead, I followed the voice’s instructions and stepped through.
I appeared in another eerily surreal place. This time it was the Castle of Rain.
Or was it? I didn’t remember the castle having a mysterious hallway to the left. When I followed it, somehow, I ended up finding a Diviner running through the hallway, nearly passing me by.
“Oh!” she said with surprise. She was panting, like she had been running for a while. Then she recognized me. “OH!” This time it was a shout. “Hi, Sierra! When did you get here?”
“Not too long ago,” I told Victoria RavenSmith. “Uh, is Seth here?”
Her expression changed so drastically, from bright and hopeful to desperate and… guilty? Was that guilt I saw? “He… he…” She almost sounded like she would cry.
“What happened?” I asked urgently.
Just then, a growling emanated from some unknown source that was not too far away.
“No time to talk,” she whispered. “We have to get out of here, or the bear thingy will get us. Seth’s gone.” With that rather abrupt explanation she resumed running from whatever it was she had been fleeing from before. I stared after her for a while, until a big, hideous Shadow Beast leaped out behind me. I gaped at it. Somehow, unlike our little friends at Dragon Mouth Cave, this one had a shape. It looked like a beast that stood upon two legs – a bear, Victoria had accurately described it as. Still, it lacked color other than black and the edges of its form still looked like coils of smoke ran off of it. Plus, it looked as blood thirsty as ever.
That was the only encouragement I required to follow Victoria in a mad dash.
With the monstrous Shadow Beast trailing too close behind me, I raced back into the main area of the Castle of Rain, where Victoria had been awakened, and the Triton slain by Malistaire.
I tried to remember everything I could about bears. I’d never had any interests in learning about animals back on Earth, and as far as I knew, there were no bears in the Spiral.
I had no time to ponder this any longer. With my limited knowledge of hungry bears, I hadn’t known how fast they were. A scream caught in my throat as ferocious hands grabbed me from behind and tackled me to the ground. I gazed weakly up at the Shadow Beast, now on my back with the bear on top of me. “Victoria?” I tried to call out, but it ended up like a squeak. Snarling, the bear (who, might I add, was not furry and in no way resembled a teddy bear) took it as a sign of defeat. So this is how it ends, I thought. No epic escape attempt, no daring rescue mission, no Malistaire. Just some stupid bear/Shadow Beast that decided I would make a good meal.
This thought fueled my anger and cleared my head a bit. Shoving my hands into my pocket, I withdrew my wand. Drawing the first card from my deck, I quickly cast whatever spell it was… and prayed it wouldn’t be something useless.
It wasn’t. In fact, it was not at all what I had expected. My hand, aided by the card, formed a triangular Myth symbol. Myth? Since when did I know any Myth spells?
I was past caring. I activated the spell (which is really hard to do pinned on your back, by the way) and amazingly, a Minotaur appeared.
It stood there, and I realized it was waiting for a command. “Help me!” I screamed at the creature as loudly as I could.
Snorting, it turned to the bear with ferocity in its eyes. With a grunt it heaved its gigantic axe at the Shadow Beast, striking it in the back.
An inhuman wail came from the Shadow Beast. Even so, the Minotaur wasn’t done yet. Again it swung at the bear-like monster with incredible power, and the wail increased in volume and pitch. Slowly, the bear’s color changed from the pure black it had been before and looked more solid. It turned a sickly brown, then faded into tan. Soon an unnatural gust of wind blew through the hallway, and the remains of the bear floated away in tiny specks. Eventually there was only a small pile of tan rocks on top of me. As before, the creature had turned to sand.
“Sierra! What happened?” Victoria cried, rushing over to me. I wondered how long she had been there. “Where did the bear go? Did you defeat it?”
“I-I think so,” I stammered. I still had so many questions. How did I summon a Minotaur? Why were the creatures turning to sand? And what happened to–
“Seth!” I gasped. “Where is he? You said he was here, didn’t you? Did something happen?”
“Yes! Um, wait, no. Kind of.”
“Which is it, Victoria?” I stood up and brushed the remaining sand off my robe, staring expectantly at her.
“The black thingy – the bear – it caught him, like it caught you. And… I…”
She burst into tears, which wasn’t quite what I had been expecting. “I’m so, so, so, sorry! Please forgive me!”
Usually I’m sort of an impatient person, and an outburst like that along with the fact that she wouldn’t explain anything to me would annoy me to no end. Instead, I felt a strange emotion – pity.
“I’m sure whatever it is, it’s not your fault,” I said soothingly, grasping Victoria’s hand. “Just let me know what happened. We can work this out.”
“It is my fault, though! I left him behind! I made him fend for himself. I’m no longer worthy of being a Seeker, if I ever was in the first place. Now we’ve lost an invaluable friend.”
I let out a long breath through my teeth. Even though on the outside I remained calm, inside I was screaming and panicking. “Now, listen,” I comforted, “we can’t be sure he’s dead yet. I’m sure he’s fine.” A lie. “I’m not upset at all.” Another lie. “We’ll all be okay.” Totally lying! Well, sometimes the truth hurt, and Victoria didn’t deserve to be hurt right now. “Come on, let’s go find him. Where did you leave him?”
“Um… I’m not sure.”
“Then let’s just walk around for a while–“
“There’s no need,” a booming voice said. We jumped.
“You,” I stated flatly. “You’re that voice from before, from the false Dragon Mouth Cave.”
“Ah, the leader of the Seekers of Light remembered me. What an honor for me.”
“Don’t flatter yourself,” I muttered. “I still don’t know your name.”
“You may never know,” it replied.
“Whatever. We have to find Seth. Now. Or as soon as possible.”
Suddenly, there was a flash of light and a portal appeared. “Victoria RavenSmith, you may return and wait for your friends. As for you, Seeker Sierra… you may not.”
“Figured as much. But I wouldn’t leave anyway. I’m going to find Seth.”
“Same here!” Victoria agreed, although she sounded unsure.
“Seeker Victoria, are you positive? You could go somewhere you would be safe.”
Victoria’s expression changed, and she seemed to be thinking hard. “I’m pretty sure I want… to stay…”
Safe. That was the word that made her hesitate.
“I won’t be mad if you leave,” I promised.
“No.” I was amazed that there was defiance and confidence in her voice. “I will be here. For Seth.”
I paused for a moment, studying her face. Slowly, I began to grin. “Good to have you, Victoria!” I shouted. “Take that big, scary, echo-y voice! The Seekers stick together. They always have, and always will.” I stopped. “Um, besides Liam. But he doesn’t count.”
There was no reply for a while. I hope we stunned him with our dedication, I thought smugly.
The portal in front of us swirled and vanished. “Well done,” the voice said. Had I just heard a touch of pride? “That was a test, and you, Victoria, have passed. Congratulations.”
“Yeah, sure, whatever you say.” I rolled my eyes. “A test. Right.”
“Believe it or not, that is your choice.”
Oh, I had definitely chosen “not.”
“However,” the voice continued, “I will need to tell you this information anyway. Seth is safe.”
I froze. “What?”
“Seth. Is. Safe.” He drawled out each word as if talking to a young Novice.
“I heard that,” I muttered. “I meant… how?”
“We opened the portal for him when he was in danger. He is waiting with Sydney, Jasmine, and the few Past Seekers helping you.”
“And you could not have told me this?” Victoria cried. “You can’t even begin to imagine the pain and guilt I felt!”
“I know.” The voice sounded so hushed and sincere. This is so weird, I thought. Sometimes it totally lacks any kind of emotion, and I think it’s heartless; then, suddenly, it’s so sentimental! Even sarcastic!
“How can we believe you, though?” I all but screamed. “I don’t trust you at all. You don’t trust us enough to know your name. Where’s the proof that Seth is okay? How do we know you’re not in league with these darn Shadow Beasts?”
“I suppose you make a good point,” the voice chuckled. “Sadly, I have no choice. There is no way that I can tell you that much information and live…” I perked up, intrigued, but the voice trailed off. There was a cough, reverberating oddly in the Castle of Rain, as though it were over a loudspeaker. “In any case, Victoria may go back to see him. If you’re really worried, why don’t you use Whisper Chat?”
“…Whisper Chat?” I repeated foolishly, like I’d never heard the term before.
“Yeah. Whisper Chat.”
“And it works in here?”
“Sure. Why wouldn’t it?”
Wow. Maybe I was still getting used to being a wizard. I was always forgetting about that convenient little ability I had to talk to people anytime across long distances.
Trying to sound casual, in case the voice was right and he wasn’t in trouble, I whispered, “Hey, Seth. What’s up?”
“Oh, hi Sierra!” I was relieved to hear his reply, and it sounded just as cheerful and Seth-like as always. It wasn’t the sound of someone in imminent danger. There was a pause on his end. “Did you know you have teleports off?”
“No, I don’t,” I muttered, checking. I shrugged, even though he couldn’t see me. “Must be you. Or…” I glanced around the room. “…maybe it’s this place. Considering where we are, I wouldn’t be surprised.”
“Where are you? Oh! Guess where I am? You have to see this. It’s the beautiful tower with–“
“I’ve been there, and trust me; the real thing is ten times better.”
“Real? What do you mean? Sierra, is something wrong?”
“Hm? Oh, uh, no. Just fine.” I chose that moment to let relief into my voice, but also foolish bitterness. To be truthful… I was upset that the voice was right about Seth being all right.
“Fine,” I snarled, switching back to speaking aloud. “You win, whoever you are. Seth is in the fake Spiral Tower.” Victoria’s face lit up like a Fire Cat’s fur in the summer. “So what’s next? Crevice of Time?”
“No,” the voice said. “Only three remain. You couldn’t imagine going to every place of awakening for only six monsters, could you?
“I guess not,” I said reluctantly.
“If Mark’s place isn’t next, what is?” Victoria asked. “Hunter’s place? I’ve never been there.” She sighed. “Actually, I never go anywhere cool. You get all the fun, Sierra.”
“I can’t really call it fun…”
“Yes, Hunter’s place of awakening is next,” the voice said, ignoring me. “Two Seekers are being held there in captivity. Mark and Hunter.” I gasped. Captivity? That couldn’t be good.
Two portals opened: one in front of me, and the other in front of Victoria.
I turned to the Storm Seeker of Light. “Well, I suppose this is goodbye for now.”
She swallowed. “I don’t want to leave,” she whispered. “I want to stay with you. I’m useful. I can prove it.”
My voice turned gentle. “I know. You want to help. But you’ll be safe this way, and you can’t really help us if you’re dead, right?”
“Please, go. I’ll help Hunter and Mark. They’re pretty good at taking care of themselves. Or Mark is. I don’t really know Hunter well.” I grinned slightly, but it faded quickly.
Finally, at length, she nodded ever so slightly. “Good luck,” she said.
And she disappeared.
With a deep breath (I did it so often, I hardly even noticed when I did it anymore – it was just my natural way of lessening stress by even a small bit), I stepped forward into the portal and instantly reappeared in a small, stone room…
…with a big, panther-like Shadow Beast staring straight at me with wide, stunned eyes.
“Um,” I said, “I think I took a wrong turn.”
The feline creature growled dangerously. I heard a gasp behind it, and I peered over the Shadow Beast to see Mark staring at me with a grim expression and Hunter looking wide-eyed. Both had their hands and feet tied up. How, I had no idea, especially since cats don’t have hands to bind rope with. I had no time to contemplate this, though. The cat pounced at me.
Screaming like the young girl I was, I jumped to the other side of the room. The cat missed me and smacked into the wall, much to my satisfaction.
This room was small. I could walk across it in just four big steps. Since there were no doors, windows, or much of anything in the room except for us, I was trapped.
I remembered casting a Minotaur last time. That had been effective. Only problem? I didn’t know Minotaur, and still wasn’t sure how I’d done it.
I reached for my deck and drew the first card off the top. I examined it carefully. “Thermal Shield.” I scowled at the card, as if it were somehow its fault I couldn’t attack with it.
I promptly discarded it and drew four more cards. Without a dueling circle, I wasn’t restricted like I normally would have been, and there were no “turns.” You attacked when you saw a chance. That simple.
This gave me some more spells to work with. I summoned my mana to try and gain pips more rapidly as I did my best to evade the Shadow Beast.
Finally, I spun around and put all my power into casting Ice Wyvern, adding an IceBlade and Ice Trap into the mix for good measure. The Ice Wyvern towered over the Shadow Beast, and I gazed upon it with pride. My creation. My power. My spell.
I expected the kitty to be obliterated into sand at my Wyvern’s roar… but nothing happened.
The Shadow Beast was equally bewildered. Recovering much faster than me, though, it grinned a predatory smile and leaped.
I attempted to dodge again, but… suddenly I found myself on the floor. Guess what? I slipped. Just like that.
Is it just me, or does the floor seem a lot more slick today? I thought to myself. It is almost like there is something spread across the surface of it…
There was no time to worry about that now. Due to my mistake, once more I found myself on my back, staring at the Shadow Beast’s hideous “face.” Do they eat people? I suddenly wondered. When it bared its pitch black teeth I immediately decided I didn’t want to know.
“Sierra!” Hunter cried weakly, and though I couldn’t look around, I could tell he was struggling with the bonds.
“Treasure Cards!” Mark screamed. “Sierra, use Treasure Cards! It’s how we defeated the other one!”
Too desperate to ask what the “other one” was, I grabbed my measly pile of about fifteen cards that passed for a treasure deck.
I drew one card. Pixie. Annoyed at myself for putting in such a useless Treasure Card – didn’t everyone over level ten know that spell? – I tossed it away.
I drew another. Dryad. Dang it, another healing spell. Well, I never had seen a need for attacking treasures when I had plenty of my own spells. Getting more frustrated and terrified by the second, the card joined its useless friend on the floor.
For a third time, I drew a card. I felt like screaming aloud, but I bit it back. Spirit Trap! Why in the Spiral did I put in a Spirit Trap? I didn’t use my Death spells often enough for that!
Just as I was about to pick another card, the not-too-bright Shadow Beast finally realized what I was up to. With its massive paw, it knocked the rest of the deck out of my hand, scattering the cards. Then it took the glowing Jade Oni sword in its mouth and I watched horrified, helpless as it broke it in half. I felt faint. I spent weeks farming the Jade Oni for that sword! The bluish-purple glow faded from it as the Shadow Beast unceremoniously tossed the halves away from me. I pushed back the tears in my eyes – it’s just a sword, I told myself. But all the effort I’d put into getting it, added to the fact that I no longer had a wand… things were looking bad.
The panther-like beast continued glaring at me. I could feel its rank breath on my neck, hear the small growl in the back of its throat, even see the terrible glint of predatory glee in its eyes.
Was this the end?
NO! I shouted to myself silently. Do something. Anything! My hand groped, and my heart nearly stopped as it grabbed something flat. A Treasure Card. One hadn’t been thrown far enough.
I had to catch the Shadow Beast off-guard, or it would kill me before I could do anything with this incredible stroke of luck. And since I really have no experience with animals… I could only think of “playing dead.”
So I stood still. My body stiffened, and I controlled my breathing, restraining it. The panther stared at me, puzzled. It’s working! I thought, struggling to keep still.
When the Shadow Beast was convinced I had stopped moving, it turned around and growled at Mark and Hunter. Hunter was crying softly. Oops. Guess I hadn’t informed them of my plan.
At least Shadow Beasts were dumb enough not to check their victims for a pulse after they died…
With an unexpected grace, speed, and efficiency that that stunned even me, I sat up and moved my hand through the motions of a spell. Whatever was in my hand… it had to be an attacking card. Had to. Or I was dead meat.
And I activated the Balance symbol…
In a flash of bright orange light, a Hydra appeared. It was large – even larger than my Ice Wyvern, to the point that its head was touching the ceiling. Even the Shadow Beast cowered.
I had developed a slight fear ever since Mary used her Hydra against me in the Pyramid of the Moon, but this one felt different. I knew it was only there to help.
At once all three heads of the Hydra let out a roar, although, to be honest, it was more like a high-pitched screech. I didn’t bother wasting time by allowing the heads to take turns at the enemy – so why not see what happened when they attacked all at once?
The same wail the bear Shadow Beast had filled the room, enhanced greatly by the small size. I winced at the volume.
Just like before… with the Shadow Beast’s defeat, it had turned into a hollow sculpture of sand.
“M-my gosh, are you guys okay?” I gasped, rushing over to Mark and Hunter who were still gazing at the dead Shadow Beast with amazement.
“I think we are now. What just happened? What was that thing?” Mark questioned.
“A Shadow Beast,” I explained grimly. “I’ve no time to explain further. The mystical voice guy might be speaking to you about it soon.”
“Mystical what-huh?” Mark said.
As he was saying that, a portal appeared in front of me in a burst of light.
“That’s my cue,” I said. I stepped forward, but Hunter grabbed my shirt and looked up at me with his curious blue eyes. I could tell he was back to his old self, and I knew what was coming next.
“Wait! What’s a Shadow Beast? It looked like a Fire Cat, but kind of different. And darker. Have you seen one before, Sierra? I thought it would eat us! Thanks for rescuing me by the way. I forgot to say that. So where are you going? Have you seen Sydney? I’m worried about her. I heard her scream to me in Whisper Chat… but I had my own situation.” His expression turned desperate. “You have to help her!”
“Already taken care of,” I assured him, grinning. “She’s fine. Like I said, the voice guy will explain everything. Probably. Hopefully.” I’m sure they caught the uncertainty in those last two words, but I was determined to leave as soon as possible. There was only one Shadow Beast left, but, if I was correct, three people still remained to be saved: Rowan, Scarlet, and Vanessa.
There was no way I was losing Rowan again.
Not to mention Merle Ambrose and Gamma were still missing…
I shook my head to clear it from such disheartening thoughts. “Are you guys over the shock yet? I really have to go. Vanessa, Scarlet, and my sister are still waiting for rescue.”
“Oh, Rowan! She’s still in trouble? I know how much you care about her, Sierra. Let her go,” Mark firmly told Hunter, who looked about to ask another million questions. He frowned, but didn’t say anymore.
“Thanks, Mark,” I said, relieved that he understood. “And, um, you guys can trust the voice, okay? I think he’s… a friend.” I almost scowled at myself. Was I really saying that? I was instructing Mark and Hunter to do something I couldn’t ever do myself. Maybe I was trying to reassure myself it was fine to leave them here alone…
“Oh, wait. One other thing.” I turned back in annoyance, but this time it was Mark speaking to me instead of Hunter. “I thought you’d want to know that there was another one of those things in here, before you came. Didn’t you notice the sand on the ground?”
I glanced down, finally spotting the tan rocks. It seemed like both Mark and I realized at the same time why I had slipped earlier and nearly killed myself. “Uh, s-sorry,” he stammered. “I really wasn’t expecting anyone else to show up, especially after we were tied up.”
I shook my head. “No, it’s absolutely fine. We survived, right?” Hmm. Perhaps I was, like, gaining better control of my emotions or something. This had been happening all day – I felt like screaming at him at how stupid he had been, but deep down inside, I knew it wasn’t his fault. I sighed, remembering what still had to be done. “And now… I believe it’s time for me to leave.”
Mark stepped back. “Oh. Right. Let me know through Whisper Chat or something when you save Rowan.”
I nodded slowly. Then, before I could lose courage or change my mind, I jumped into the portal.
Immediately I was overwhelmed by the desert heat. Oh, great. I knew this place all too well. It didn’t exactly hold warm and fuzzy memories for me.
Well, maybe warm. I was already sweating out here.
Still, it was more the whole meeting Mary, confronting Liam, arguing with Scarlet, and being accused of being Malistaire’s minion parts that bothered me.
We had awakened Vanessa here, though…
Like I expected, I spun around to see a huge figure looming in the distance. It had a wide body and slowly sloped upward to a point. The Pyramid of the Moon.
Recalling my mission, I sprinted toward it. I’d seen a Shadow Beast move. Who knew how much damage one could do in the few minutes that I stood here gawking?
I burst into the pyramid moments later… only to find it empty and utterly quiet. What had I expected? An epic battle? The triumphant faces of my friends?
Or the triumphant face of a Shadow Beast?
I shook my head. Ugh, thinking optimistically was harder than I thought. How did Mark do it?
Since there was no indication of where my friends could be, I had to choose for myself where to go. There were only two exits: the long hallway that led to the wide open room Vanessa was awakened in, or up the staircase Scarlet explored without us last time.
I realized that I had never been up there. What were the upper reaches of the pyramid like? Scarlet felt like leaving without us, so I didn’t get a chance to go up that way. I glanced uncertainly back at the tunnel. The lights were off, but I could easily picture them turning on within my head and I guarantee they would. At least, the Desert Colossus had told us they would for any Seekers. That was what happened last time.
Of course, all these buildings were fake, right? It was still blurry, like I was in a dream. Maybe I was in a dream. Now, wouldn’t that have been wonderful. But that hadn’t ever worked before; usually when I was aware enough to wonder if I was dreaming, I was awake. Nope, I wasn’t getting out of this that easily.
There was no light up those stairs, though. Scarlet had used Dryad. I did not know Dryad.
I glanced around the see if there was anything flammable, giving me déjà vu to last time…
But unlike my previous visit, my search actually paid off. On the wall I noticed a convenient torch, practically begging me to use it.
With my new light source I made my way up the dark steps. They seemed to wind up forever – how tall could this pyramid be, anyway? – but eventually they stopped, and I supposed this was some sort of attic room. Truthfully, I couldn’t make out much. The torch did not provide much light to see by.
It didn’t seem like I would need the torch much longer anyway. There was a small, flickering greenish-white light in the corner of the room, hiding behind a type of desk. It wasn’t very bright, but someone could see by it if they had no other choice.
Blinking to confirm what I saw, I tried to determine what it could possibly be. There were storied on Earth about ghosts using lights to lure in travelers, right? I doubted they were real, even in the Spiral, but it still gave me an eerie feeling. It sure looked like a ghost…
Time to take a crazy, pointless risk.
“I know you’re there,” I whispered. Okay, I didn’t know if anyone was there, but either I was totally correct and would startle someone into revealing themselves, or no one was around to hear. Either way, I had nothing to lose, right?
A growl erupted from behind me, and I spun around just in time to be viciously attacked and rammed into a wall by a Shadow Beast. This one resembled the one in Dragon Mouth Cave. Its form shifted, as if it couldn’t decide what to look like. It stalked toward me, sometimes on two legs, sometimes on four – but always with malicious intent.
“Stay away from my sister, you, um, thingy!” a voice shouted. The light that I had been examining earlier shone even brighter. No, wait – this was a different green light. Someone was casting a Life spell!
Rowan WillowLeaf stepped out from behind the desk and activated the symbol, a Centaur leaping onto a suddenly leaf-covered ground. It aimed an arrow at the Shadow Beast.
It was only then that I remembered only Treasure Cards worked.
“Uh, Rowan?” I said.
The Centaur fired the arrow, and the Shadow Beast was enveloped in a tree trunk with a rumbling, cracking sound. It burst open, and as I expected… the Shadow Beast came out unscathed.
I sighed. “Regular cards don’t work.”
“Now you tell me,” she grumbled. “What a waste of mana!”
The Shadow Beast chose that moment to attack again. I had no time to reply as we scrambled out of the way.
Vanessa and Scarlet emerged from behind the desk, as well as a small Fairy. I realized the faint light from her wings was what I had been seeing.
“Use Treasure Cards, guys!” I ordered. “They’re the only things that work!”
“I don’t have any Treasures,” Scarlet said with a frown. “They’re unfair. I had a few Rebirths and a Spirit Blade, but that’s it.”
“I thought I didn’t need my Treasure Cards. I gave them to Victoria just yesterday!” Vanessa complained.
I glanced at my sister. “Rowan?”
She grinned. “Don’t worry, I’ve got…” She frowned down at the Treasure deck she took out and looked at three cards on top. “Um… never mind. I don’t have anything that can attack.”
“Do I have to do everything myself?” I murmured. I reached into my pocket to pull out my Treasure deck…
...and panicked when my hand received only air.
That’s when I recalled that I had left all my Treasure Cards scattered on the ground back with Hunter and Mark after they were whacked out of my hand by the Shadow Beast.
We have no Treasure Cards.
The world just hates me, doesn’t it?
The Shadow Beast attacked again, this time heading for my sister. “Rowan!” I screamed, diving toward them. All I found was a handful of air as Rowan flew from the impact of the beast’s blow I was too slow to defend her from.
Slamming into the wall – hard; the smacking sound was so loud it echoed – Rowan’s figure crumpled to the floor, unconscious.
Or at least I hoped it was unconsciousness preventing Rowan from standing again.
My temper suddenly flared. This monster had messed with my sister – now this was personal.
But how could we even hit the Shadow Beast if we had no Treasure Cards? Everything else would go directly through it. Not to mention I still lacked a proper wand. The Shadow Beast took my sword and broke it last time I checked…
I cast an IceBlade, the feeling of icy power coursing through my body providing some comfort. Even without a wand, I was determined to make my spell hurt so much that the Shadow Beast would have to feel it.
As I dodged the incoming attacks, thankful the beast was focusing on me rather than Vanessa and Scarlet, I passed by Rowan and just so happened to catch a glimpse of the card she was still holding in her hand. It was a Treasure Card, since she had been looking at hers until the attack. It was a Strength card.
At first I really didn’t care – like she said, Strength couldn’t do any damage.
But when I thought carefully about what it did do, I realized something.
Strength made Treasure Cards.
And Treasure Cards hurt Shadow Beasts.
Feeling slightly guilty for stealing from my unconscious sister (even knowing she would forgive me for it), I took the card. Selecting my Ice Wyvern, I concentrated on combining the Strength with it. Soon enough, I had an extra-powerful Ice Wyvern, not to mention an IceBlade to boost it more. I smiled a bit. The Shadow Beast was so going to pay.
I moved my arms to form the Ice symbol and released my mana.
The Ice Wyvern materialized with a roar. Empowered by the Strength card and IceBlade, it was going to do a pretty decent amount of damage.
The Shadow Beast was blown away by the force of the Ice Wyvern alright, more so than I could have even hoped for. Even though I used Minotaur and Hydra before, they hadn’t been my school, and the Ice Wyvern, being my most powerful spell since level 22, was my specialty. With a howl of the worst sort – pain, desperation, fury, and defeat in its tone – the Shadow Beast transformed into sand.
I was panting – casting spells without a wand was much more tiring, plus I’d been frantically dodging a few minutes ago. I sank to the ground with a stunning revelation.
I’d done it.
One Shadow Beast in the Castle of Rain. One in the Pyramid of the Moon. One in Hunter’s place. Counting the one that Mark and Hunter defeated before I arrived, that was four. That was it.
That was the last Shadow Beast!
“Can I be honest? I didn’t really believe you would make it,” the now-familiar voice said. “Now that you’ve done this, who knows what else you can accomplish united? Prepare yourself, Sierra WinterBreeze. The path ahead will not be easy, but you are ready for it. You can defeat the Spiral’s greatest evil with your closest friends as allies. You have proven yourself.” A pause. “Well, perhaps you may encounter one more test…”
“Another test? I can’t take it anymore! Who are you? I demand to know! I have done enough. My friends are safe, and I take no orders from you, whoever you are.”
Silence. I smugly wondered if I had somehow scared it off. Scarlet and Vanessa were in shock, looking around the room before staring at me with questioning eyes. I offered them no explanation.
Finally the voice returned. “Do not fear. Rest now. You have been on a long journey, but do not be hasty simply because you are nearing its conclusion.”
A portal appeared. “Join your friends. Lead them, Sierra, to your victory. Again, the Seekers of Light will prevail and Wizard City will be free once more. Go!”
“What about Row–“
My sister stirred next to us. Blinking blearily, she moved and groaned. I rushed to her side. “Take it easy, Rowan!” I commanded. “You’re not… you can’t be…” I watched in surprise as she stood and brushed herself off without any assistance. “But, Rowan–”
“I’m fine, Sierra,” she told me. “Just fine. Really. I mean… I have a major headache, but still. I’m Life, right? I’ll heal myself.”
She drew a card from her deck and cast Dryad. The green light encompassed her figure. I could almost feel Rowan slowly getting her strength back.
“Okay, time to go,” I said doubtfully. I really wanted Rowan to gather her strength a bit more. My older sister instincts told me to let her rest… but my Seeker leader instincts (if I had any – I haven’t been doing much leading) told me we couldn’t let one member drag us all down. Especially since she looked completely fine, and she had just been healed…
Scarlet stepped through the portal first, followed by Vanessa, then Rowan. I stood still for a moment, sweeping my gaze across the room. It felt strange to follow my friends after I had always taken a route different than them up until now. Finally, I gathered my courage and entered the portal.
I reappeared in the Spiral Tower – the fake one, of course. Everyone was there: Sydney, Victoria, Mark, Hunter, Vanessa, Rowan, Jasmine, Seth, and Scarlet. Everyone I had just rescued in a way. Every one of my friends.
It looked like all the Past Seekers were there, too. Christopher was speaking when I appeared, but stopped when he spotted me. “And there she is now.”
Everyone turned to stare at me.
I stared back, a sudden wave of stage fright overwhelming me. They all looked so expectant. What was I supposed to do?
“They’re waiting for you to say something,” a voice to my left said. I glanced there to find Taryn. “Chris used to do it all the time. Not so much lately… but we don’t have that many jobs anymore. If he convinced a distrustful, fearful, doubtful group of the first Seekers to unite as one, I’m positive you can do it with your closest friends.”
I still wasn’t sure what Taryn mean by “distrustful, fearful, and doubtful,” nor what the Past Seekers might have faced in their time; however, I was forced to ignore that part. She was right. These were my friends. I took a deep breath and began.
“Um, hi, everyone,” I unsteadily started. Stop, I told myself. Be motivational. Be inspiring! “So… it’s time to do what we were meant to do.” I paused. Not exactly inspiring… “So, uh, let’s do it… together. United. Yeah.”
Everyone was still watching me with blank expressions.
You know what? This was all wrong. I’m not “motivational.” I’m not a speech writer. Truthfully, I’m not even a leader. I’m here as a friend, now a Seeker of Light. I had to do this my own way.
“Okay, look,” I said. “I know that you don’t want to sit here listening to me going on about who-cares-what. You don’t need any big long pep-talk. Want to know why? You’re ready. Totally, completely ready. …It’s time. We’re going to fight Malistaire, whether you like it or not.” That got a reaction. Some of their faces hardened at the mention of our inevitable future opponent’s name, but most just got a nervous sort of look. “I know you can do it. I mean, think about what we faced today. Shadow Beasts. Shape-shifting creatures. Crazy, right? And we found them all, and won. If we can do that while fragmented and separated from one another, imagine what we can do together! Look around you. You know everyone here in one way or another. I’m sure you have worked in smaller groups on quests together, haven’t you? This is no different! This is who we are!” My voice in a crescendo as the speech reached its high point. “We are ready! Let us show Malistaire what it truly means to be a Seeker of Light! Let’s take our victory!”
At that conclusion, I let my voice resonate in the tower, echoing out that one, proud word. Everything was silent for a moment, and I wondered if I’d done something wrong. Then my audience burst into applause, cheering way louder than a group that size should have been able to.
I grinned. Maybe I wasn’t so bad at motivation after all.
“Now,” Christopher said, “it’s time to go.”
“Yeah,” I agreed, “but how are we supposed to get there?”
“Um, we’re not entirely sure.” My eyes narrowed. If he didn’t know… “Wait! There is one way that we may be able to find Malistaire. How did you get into the Spiral Tower that first time, Sierra?”
“A door in the back of the throne in Gobblestone Castle. Why?”
He let out a long breath that sounded like it was in relief. “Good. As long as it’s a place linked to the Seekers, we should be able to… change the portal. So that it goes somewhere else related to the Seekers.”
“What do you mean?”
“Malistaire’s lair… is tied to your destiny as a team, since he is your enemy and you have proven yourself in there more than enough times. The Spiral Tower is also inevitably bound to you. We may be able to modify the portal in Gobblestone Castle to take you to Malistaire instead.”
“R-really?” I said, thinking about that carefully. “But… I thought we were still in the fake tower, and you said we couldn’t leave.”
“As you defeated each Shadow Beast, the seal on this place weakened. Perhaps not enough to allow us to completely leave on our own… but I believe we can now travel between the copies easily, and with the aid of a portal we should be able to make it out entirely.”
“Thank goodness,” I muttered. Louder, I said, “So is there a copy of Gobblestone Castle, then?”
I stared. “Then how are we–”
“But there is a copy of the Tower of Lost Memories.” I was surprised that it wasn’t Christopher speaking. I looked to the side to see Megan BlueGarden, the Past Ice Seeker that had lost her powers, talking with a pensive expression on her face. “It’s where I was awakened too, you know,” she said softly. “The places of awakening never change, although their Spiral counterparts do. Colossus Boulevard wasn’t always overrun by Gobblers; Gobblestone Castle was originally built by the Creators of Ice to honor their school and symbolize their cool, defensive strength.” She took a deep breath. “I helped make it…”
I immediately sensed a shift in mood in all the Past Seekers, and most seemed lost in thought. “Does that mean you’re a Creator of Ice?” I questioned, picking up on what she just said.
She nodded slowly.
I gawked at her. “Really? But… you’re just…”
“We all are,” Taryn said. “Each of us had some part in creating Ravenwood and the schools of magic. I’m sure we would have succeeded entirely in uniting them if it weren’t for… Wolf.”
“The leader of the DeathBringers,” Christopher explained.
Like I knew what that was.
“Look, just… forget about it for the moment. We’re not here to deal with him, thank Bartleby. We’re talking about Malistaire. Everyone, prepare to teleport.”
Instantly, the world around me became a whirling hurricane. I gasped aloud with surprise. We appeared at our location and I stumbled. “You know,” I muttered sarcastically, scowling at Christopher, “when someone says ‘prepare’ they usually wait for you to do it.”
“Sorry,” he said, smiling. Somehow I doubted he was sorry.
But what I saw next made me forget all about that. I drew in a sharp breath upon recognizing where we were.
The Tower of Lost Memories. The area that I was awakened in.
Oh, my gosh. I hadn’t been here since, well… since my awakening, really. Everything looked just as I remembered it – white and blue checkered tiling, big, wide open space…
“It doesn’t look impressive,” I heard Vanessa whisper behind me. I shot her a furious glare, and she shrank back in alarm. Okay, that had been slightly harsh. But this place felt… like a part of me. It had made me all I was today. A Seeker leader…
But there were differences, too. I mean, this wasn’t the real Tower of Lost Memories. In fact, this resembled Gobblestone Castle more than the real one did. There was still a throne here. Sure, it was adorned with an Ice insignia and shimmered with a bluish glow, but it still didn’t belong in a place like this.
I strode to the other side of the throne. Sure enough, a door was there. “Here,” I told Christopher, pointing to it. “This is similar to the door I went to the Spiral Tower in. Why it – and the throne – is here, I have no clue, but it is. Isn’t that what matters?”
“Exactly,” Christopher agreed. “This will work great.” He opened up the door for me (to my irritation – I had to use a key to make it open! What made him so special, besides the fact that he was the first Seeker leader ever and dead?) and motioned for me to go inside. I looked back over my shoulder to see nine other expectant faces (and eight ghostly ones) looking at me. I suddenly recognized three people who should not be here at the moment…
“Seth. Scarlet. Jasmine.” They jumped as I stated their names, looks of something near guilt on their faces. “You guys can’t come.”
“But I want to fight Malistaire,” Seth whined. “It’s not fair.”
“Yeah, Sierra,” Jasmine said. “Don’t we have as much of a right to be here as you do?”
“Um, no,” I said. “We’re Seekers. I think that gives us more right to face evil. We can’t ensure your safety, and I would not be able to live with myself if one of you di– uh, got hurt.”
“Hey, it’s kind of your fault that we’re here in the first place,” Scarlet reminded me. “Hate to break it to you, Sierra, but if you hadn’t told us all about Seekers than we wouldn’t have been targeted and captured.”
Man, I hated when she was right.
“You wouldn’t leave me alone!” I shouted at her. “You found out about Seekers on your own. That wasn’t my fault! I mean, who told you about them in the first place? How much do you really know about them? Yeah, not much.” I kept my expression stern. “You aren’t coming.”
“We’ll follow you,” Scarlet retorted.
“No, you won’t. That’s final.” I gave her one final glare before returning my gaze to the door…
…and remembered something else that needed to be taken care of.
I sighed. “One last thing. If we’re about to go into an epic battle… I kind of need a wand.”
“What happened?” Christopher asked me.
“Feline Shadow Beasts happened, that’s what,” I said under my breath.
Megan spoke up again. “Don’t worry. I think I can help with that.” She reached into her pocket and took a strange item out. “This is my old wand. You can have it.”
I reached out and took it from her, and was surprised to find that it was solid. Indeed it was a wand – not a sword or staff, which surprised me. Few high level wizards from MooShu and Dragonspyre had wands any longer, but I supposed Zachary had one earlier. “Although I never made it past level 40,” she said, “wands from the older days are much more powerful than any type of magical conductor you can find today. I’m sure it will do much better than the sword you had before, Sierra. And it’s Ice, so it will probably work well with the spells you use. Will this be sufficient?”
“Y-yeah!” I grinned at her. “Thanks! Won’t this be interesting, using an ancient Seeker wand…”
She smiled at me. “Good. Now you must go. All of you must.”
I nodded. I scanned the room, examining my closest friends. I closed my eyes, tired out suddenly. They wanted so much from me… expected me to be strong, and it was just so… hard.
But who said being a Seeker of Light would be easy? If anything, I’d repeatedly heard the opposite.
I offered them all a wide grin, showing them that I wasn’t afraid (even though inside I really was). Some beamed back, some did not, but everyone felt slightly reassured by my attempt to cheer them up.
So, without another glance back, I stepped into the doorway…
…and reappeared at an enormous door, so achingly familiar. And not in a good way.
After being in a strange haziness for so long, everything looked so sharp and detailed. Now the fortress looked ten times more foreboding than it did before.
The other Seekers of Light started to appear behind me, but my attention was held by the huge building ahead.
Like I said before… this was it.
It was time.
Time to face destiny.
Time to face fear.
Time to face the worst challenge of all.
Time… to face Malistaire.