|“YES!” I screamed. “Yes, yes, yes!”|
“It’s not that great, you know,” Rowan muttered in an irritated voice.
I could see why. I’d been screaming excitedly like this for the last five minutes.
“You’re just jealous,” I teased.
“I am not!” she indignantly replied.
“Yeah, you are.”
“Stop fighting,” Mom (A.K.A. Angela UnicornRider) sighed for the thirtieth time.
The thing was that I was level 40. The point? First off, I was a Master. You know – one of the highest titles you can get in wizardry! Second, I’d been able to learn the spell I’d been waiting for as long as I could remember: IceBlade. Plus, well, who didn’t like leveling up? Lastly… I was finally ahead of Rowan.
Even since I had arrived in the Spiral (about seven months ago), I’d always been behind Rowan in level. Well, actually, behind most people my age. Thanks to Malistaire, I had started school almost a year late. The only other person I knew who was even close to my age and my level was Sydney JadeHammer. She had been going at a slower pace, too, because she used to not be able to cast spells outside Dragon Mouth Cave. Even she, however, was a bit younger than me.
But now, thanks to a ton of side-quests, I was finally ahead of Rowan, my level 39 sister!“YES!”
Unfortunately, if you counted the main quests, we were actually about even. Both of us had quests to do in the Tree of Life.
I was thrilled – for once, when I helped my sister, I would be helping myself, too! Rowan and I had agreed we would meet this afternoon outside the Tree of Life area to go in together.
Sydney was coming as well. And, as much as she didn’t want him to, her rather aggravating little brother, Hunter ThunderShield, was also. Her parents had made her bring him. It had something to do with the fact that Hunter was in Marleybone, but desperately wanted to see MooShu, but Sydney wouldn’t take him there until now. I didn’t really know any details.
But that still wasn’t until this afternoon. While I’d been waiting, I had finally become a Master, officially making me higher in level than her.
I had come back home, then. Besides, I was finished with almost every single MooShu side-quest I had. I only had one in Hametsu Village, one in Cave of Solitude, and three from where I had been questing in Marleybone. Plus, it was almost noon.
When I found Rowan at home, I couldn’t help but brag… just a little!
“It’s so unfair,” Rowan complained.
“That okay, Rowan,” I said, grinning. “One day you’ll be as great as me!”
She gave me a warning look and then glanced anxiously at the clock. “Isn’t it time yet?”
“Tired of me already?” I laughed. I noticed her furious glare and I backed down. “Okay, okay. I’m just excited. Sorry.”
She rolled her eyes. “Sometimes I wish you were still not here!”
I paused. Even though I knew she was kidding, it still stung a bit. What if I wasn’t here? As in… back on Earth? Would I still be dealing with horrible John and facing his ridicule?
Now there was an awkward silence. “Um, you know I didn’t mean it like that,” Rowan hurriedly apologized. “I was just saying–“
“It’s fine,” I said tightly, and the look on her face let me know that she was very well aware that she had hurt me.
Fortunately, Sydney’s voice surrounded me, distracting me for a moment. “We’re at your front door. Ready to go?” she asked in Whisper Chat.
“Oh, sure,” I replied, the gestured to Rowan. “Come on. They’re here.”
Grabbing my wand and deck, I led Rowan out of the house and into the streets of Wizard City
Rowan and I still both lived with our parents in their house right beside the Commons River. It wasn’t the quietest house, since the Commons was always flooded with students, but it was cozy, and we liked it much better than our old cramped dorm rooms at the school. Neither of us had gained enough gold for a castle yet (except Rowan, but she had to leave her gold in Malistaire’s lair), so we had to stay here for now.
Like she had said, Sydney was waiting with her brother, Hunter. Hunter’s face was lit up with enthusiasm. Apparently he was eager to get to MooShu. I stared enviously at Sydney’s necklace and wished I still had mine.
The group followed me to the Spiral Chamber inside of Bartleby. Sydney opened up the door and stepped inside. We teleported to her, ending up in the Jade Palace. “Wow,” Hunter whispered, and his expression reminded me of myself when I had first admired MooShu. And how it had led to Vanessa’s awakening, too.
Rowan led the rest of the way, because Hunter was spewing out a hundred questions a second. “Wow! This is amazing! Is this your favorite world? Were you really happy when you got in here? Is it hard? Does it take a long time to get here? How long? Am I close? What level are you? Do I have to be that level, too? Where are we going? A tree? Why are we going to a tree? Is the tree big? Is it pretty?”
Absentmindedly, I answered as many as I could, just to please him. I was thankful when we arrived outside the instance. “Teleport to one of us, Hunter,” Sydney instructed as she stepped onto one of the four glowing spots on the ground. Rowan and I took two of the others.
Now we were on our way to the Tree of Life – and, as I’d heard, Death Oni.
I had no idea what we would encounter there.
“Over here!” Rowan called, and I follower her voice to find her engaged in a battle with a Kakeda Spirit Slave.
“You got caught again?” I rolled my eyes, but I was smiling.
“Yeah. My bad,” she said sheepishly.
“Okay, let’s get Sydney and Hunter,” I suggested. “They might as well help us.”
“Yeah, but Hunter will just bring in another enemy,” she grumbled. “He’s not very helpful.”
I silently agreed. Yeah, Hunter was very inexperienced against MooShu enemies. Rowan was constantly having to heal him, so she wasn’t very happy. “We can’t have Sydney without Hunter,” I reminded her. “So he comes too.”
While we waited for them to arrive, I joined the battle – and nearly gasped. “Rowan, were the last monsters like this, too?” Their health was incredibly high. Plus, they just looked… smarter. Like they knew something. Something big. And, within a few turns, I discovered that they knew how to fight, too. They were not your average Ninja Pigs.
“The others were like them. They were the same enemy. Is that what you mean?”
“No.” I shook my head. “I mean, like them… as in… more intelligent. Don’t you see how they–”
“We’re here!” Sydney announced as she teleported to me with Hunter. I gave her an annoyed look. “Oh. Am I interrupting something?” Then she looked at Rowan. “Again? This is the second time.”
“I know,” Rowan said, smiling regretfully. “I could have sworn that I would going around them. I thought they were on the other side of the street.” She shook her head in confusion. “I guess they’re just out to get me!”
I stared at her. That was strange. In fact, I had been thinking the exact same thing when I had seen her get dragged in the first time. She was pretty far from the Kakeda Spirit Slaves, but they seemed to turn at the last second to get her.
“Whoa,” Sydney said, taking a sudden breath. “Since when do Kakeda Spirit Slaves have this much health?”
“Good. I’m not crazy.”
“I never paid any attention to their health,” Rowan said uneasily.
Fortunately (with a well-aimed Phoenix from Sydney), the battle ended, and we emerged victorious. We hurried out of the way into an area that was safe.
But something glinted in the sunlight on the street. For a second, I recalled my awakening – hadn’t I fought some unusually powerful Gobblers, then found my key? However, when I rushed toward the item, despite Sydney telling me to come back before the enemies reappeared, I saw that it was not a key. Instead, it was an oddly colored metal leaf.
I brought the puzzling object back to my friends. They crowded around me, staring at the leaf quizzically. Hunter inquired, “What is it?”
“Trust me, if I knew, I’d tell you,” I said, holding it a bit higher so the others could examine it.
“It’s a leaf,” Rowan whispered quietly. She reached out for it, and I let her take it. After it, it was a leaf: the symbol of the Life school.
She looked down at it in amazement. “I think it’s mine.”
“Right here. It says my name.” We stared as she turned the leaf over and we spotted writing that for some reason the rest of us hadn’t noticed.
In fancy text, it read, To Rowan WillowLeaf. The key to open the portal is yours. How you use it is for you to decide.
It was almost like a small note, or letter. But there was no signature.
“Okay. That’s just weird. I really think that this is some kind of trick…” I muttered.
“No, it’s real. I know it is. Let me show you the portal and I’ll prove it!”
“Um, what portal?”
Exasperated, she said, “I’m working on that.”
I looked to Sydney for advice, and she shrugged. I wasn’t sure what was happening, but Sydney didn’t seem worried about it, and I trusted her. “Fine. Show us the portal. Whenever you find it. But at this point, all we can do is keep going. We’re supposed to deafeat Nomoonaga.”
We finished our task. It wasn’t too difficult, with Rowan’s Centaur doing plenty of damage against the Death boss. We hurried back to Yinshin Chen. Using the Dagger of Shadows we received from defeating Nomoonaga, we used it on the withering Tree of Life.
Amazingly, it began to glow. I mean, really glow. It became so bright that we were all forced to shield our eyes. With a whooshing sound like wind rustling through tree branches, the glow subsided and we looked at the Tree of Life once more.
It wasn’t the sorry sight it had been before. Now it was true to its name – bursting with life. It’s trunk was a deep, healthy shade of brown, and all its leaves were a wonderfully dark green. Pink and purple flowers bloomed on the branches, filling the air with a fragrant aroma. The four of us stood there, staring in awe. “Um, was that supposed to happen?” Hunter asked at length.
“No! No, it definitely wasn’t!” We spun around to see Yinshin Chen behind us. “We’ve been trying to revive the Tree of Life for months. We thought the only way to do it was defeat Death Oni, but look here! You’ve healed it!”
“Thanks, I think,” I said slowly. “Only I don’t know what we did. What was supposed to happen?”
“The portal leading to Kagemoosha and the Oni should have opened.”
I glanced at Rowan in surprise. “Did you say… portal?”
“Yes,” he confirmed.
“I told you!” Rowan exclaimed. She withdrew the leaf and held it up. “Maybe this is what healed the Tree of Life. I bet it will open the portal, too!”
As if it had heard her, the lead starting flowing bright green, the soft color of healing. Then in front of us, just as Rowan had said, a portal formed, glowing with the exact same shade of green as the leaf.
“Well, great,” I said, looking uneasily at the newly formed portal. “Does your leaf give any hints on where it could lead?”
She checked. “Nope.”
“Of course not.” I sighed, and stepped a bit closer to the portal. “Is anyone else coming, or will I have to do this by myself?”
Reluctantly, Sydney and Hunter stepped toward me. Rowan however, went right ahead and stepped into the glowing light without hesitation. I took a sharp, nervous breath, but reassured myself. Ever since Rowan had been kidnapped, I always overreacted when I lost her.
Instead of panicking, I tried my best to remain calm and allowed myself to vanish inside the portal.
Almost instantly, I was transported to another area. It looked like a small glade in a forest or something. It was shaded by trees, and soft grass was beneath my feet. Admiring its natural beauty, I thought about my sister and how much she would love this.
Speaking of Rowan, where was she?
“Rowan?” I called. “Sydney? Hunter! Guys, are you here?”
“Yeah. This way!” Sydney’s voice came from somewhere in the forest.
“Of course, it just had to be through the trees,” I murmured as I advanced toward her.
Just as I was busy fighting off a thorny branch, there was a flicker of movement beside me. I froze. Leaves rustled, but no matter where I turned, there was nothing there.
I slowly proceeded with moving the branch gently out of the way, and stepped in the direction of the rustling – in the opposite way from which I had been going.
No matter how far I went, the sound always seemed slightly ahead of me. Finally, I broke out into an enormous clearing, even larger than the one I had landed in. The noise abruptly stopped, as if I had left it behind in the bushes.
I momentarily forgot about it, though. My friends were all in front of me, looking on with worried expressions.
“I’m glad you found us, Sierra,” Sydney said, rushing over. “We were so scared! The rest of us all ended up here. I wonder why you didn’t.”
“You guys are so lucky,” I complained. “You end up in this beautiful glade, while I find myself going through bushes, thorns all over!” It was then that I remembered how I had gotten here. Realizing that I still couldn’t hear the noise, I asked, “Was that you guys, making all those rustling sounds?”
Sydney stared. “What rustling?”
I opened my mouth to reply, but Rowan and Hunter were also giving me strange looks. I chose to drop the subject. Maybe I had been imagining it.
But there was something so… familiar about the noise! It almost sounded like a person. Someone purposefully trying to make sounds.
“Where are we?” I inquired, directing the question mainly to Rowan.
Sydney and Hunter turned to her as well.
“I… I don’t know!” she stuttered. “The leaf disappeared when I went through the portal.”
“Do you know what this means?” I said sternly. “This could all be a trap!”
“I know,” she moaned, dismally shaking her head. “I just wanted so badly to find out what could be here.”
“I don’t think it’s a trap,” Sydney said, “but something’s definitely wrong with this forest. Listen.”
We stopped talking for a while to follow her instructions, but the forest remained silent. “I don’t hear anything,” Hunter said.
“That’s the point,” she explained softly. “Forest’s shouldn’t be quiet. I haven’t been in many, but I know there should be animals scurrying around or at least birds.”
“She’s right,” Rowan said. She walked to a tree and placed her hand on its trunk and closer her eyes. “Most of the trees seem dead, but at the same time… more full of life than ever. It’s like they’re sleeping or something.”
“Really?” Hunter walked beside Rowan. “How do you know that?”
“Um, we don’t have time for lessons, Hunter,” I said. “We really should–“
All of a sudden, a painfully loud sound resonated around us, disrupting the silence. It almost sounded like an incredibly powerful gust of wind had just hit the forest, although I felt no breeze. It was followed by a cry of, “OW!” and a tree branch cracked somewhere in the forest not too far away.
“Was that a wizard?” Hunter asked.
“I don’t know,” I truthfully replied.
We carefully approached the noise. I cleared my throat. “Well, uh, is anyone there?”
There came a muffled grunt. “Depends on who you are.”
Wait. I knew that voice.
“Victoria?” I called out doubtfully.
Finally, the person emerged from the forest, her mouth a wide “o” of surprise. “Did you bring me here?” Victoria inquired.
“Don’t think so.”
“Then where are we?”
“We’re not sure.”
A sound similar to the one before came from the forest at that moment, but instead of someone ending up in there, I was blown of my feet by the force of someone teleporting too close to me.
Mark materialized where I had just been, the same dazed look on his face. He was in a dueling position, as if he had just been about to cast a spell. “Why am I…?” Without finishing his sentence, he looked down and helped me up. Giving an apologetic smile, he said, “I’m sorry. That’s the second time I’ve knocked you over.”
I guessed he was referring to when we encountered each other in Dragonspyre. “No, that was my fault. Now we’re even.”
Instead of grinning like I expected, he shook his head as if shaking his confusion off. “Can you give me a clue as to what just happened?”
He was interrupted by the sound of two more people teleporting: Vanessa, DreamHaven, the Balance Seeker, and her brother –
It occurred to me that this could all be his fault. He had brought us here on some errand for Malistaire!
“You did this, didn’t you?” I yelled at the top of my lungs.
“N-no. Where…” He looked just as disconcerted as the rest of us, and for a moment I faltered. But I remembered all he had done to us in the past, and tried to assure myself that he was just acting.
In the meantime, Vanessa cried, “Liam!” She rushed toward him. Liam let himself be hugged, but halfheartedly. He was doing a really, really good job at feigning surprise.
Eventually, he composed himself and said, “I’m not responsible for this. I don’t even know how I got here.”
“Yes you do, liar.”
“Liam isn’t to blame,” Vanessa said protectively.
“I bet you anything that this was all his plan. Stop always defending him!”
“This was so not my idea. I was doing something important!” Liam finally seemed like he was back to his old self.
“Like arranging this?”
“Stop it,” Mark said, coming between us. “If we want to get out of here, we will have to work as a team.”
“There’s absolutely no way you’re going to make me work with him.” I stubbornly spun around and faced the other way, crossing my arms across my chest.
“Haven’t you guys noticed anything strange?” Sydney said, apparently trying to change the subject.
“Besides the fact that everything in this forest seems frozen in time, and almost all of my friends are randomly teleporting here for absolutely no reason? Nope, nothing,” I said drily.
“No. I mean… we’re all Seekers.”
I glanced around, and for the first time, I realized that she was right. In fact, all of the Seekers were here. Sydney, Victoria, Mark, Hunter, Vanessa, and, as much as I hated to admit it, Liam. And me.
I remembered what Mark had said a while back about Rowan being the Life Seeker. I had been so sure that it was Scarlet, maybe I never saw the answer was right in front of me.
“Right in front of… wait!” I turned around to look at Rowan, my head spinning. She was closer to me than Scarlet. And… the Headmaster had said almost exactly something like, “The answer may be right in front of you…”
“What is it?” Victoria asked.
“Rowan… you’re not… you can’t be…” I couldn’t even make out a sentence.
“Why are you staring at me like that?” Rowan said nervously.
“Rowan,” I managed, “I think you’re…”
Then I noticed there was someone behind Rowan.
It was a boy. He was a few years older than me, with black hair and brown eyes. I decided he was from the Death school and from his black and red Dragonspyre armor, probably a Grandmaster.
“Um, hi?” I said uneasily. It was kind of suspicious finding a random Death Grandmaster in a silent forest.
“Hi,” he replied. “Are you Sierra?”
Taken aback, I asked, “How do you know my name?”
“Well… would you believe me if I told you it is a long story?”
“I don’t know. I’ve got time. We’re obviously not going anywhere,” I muttered. Something seemed wrong. This guy wasn’t normal. The question was, was he a friend – or a foe?
“Then I guess I should introduce myself.” He smiled. “My name is Christopher BattleSword, and I’m the leader of the Seekers of Light.”
The whole forest was totally silent. Even more quiet than before, if that’s possible. My friends were all holding their breath to see what I would do. They all knew that I was their leader – not this guy.
“I’m not sure who you think you are…” I began.
“I just told you, didn’t I?”
That made me even more frustrated. “Well, yeah. But you’re not the leader of the Seekers. And I don’t appreciate you coming in here and pretending to be someone you’re not,” I growled.
“Who said I’m pretending?” he said, a slight tinge of annoyance in his tone.
“I did, just now. Because I’m the leader of the Seekers, not you, so…” My voice trailed off as others emerged out of the forest behind him. They all looked the same way – like something wasn’t right about them. But these wizards didn’t really scare me. I knew it was weird, but they wouldn’t hurt me… and I almost felt like I knew them.
“Perhaps I should have been bit more clear,” Christopher said, a taunting grin forming on his face. “I’m the leader of the first Seekers of Light.”
Dumbfounded, I looked at the new arrivals. Were these Seekers of the first generation?
“That’s impossible,” I declared, but even to myself I sounded doubtful. “You… you would be dead.”
“I didn’t know that these Seekers would be so stupid,” one girl remarked. “We are dead.” I turned to glare at her. She had purplish blue eyes, with light brown hair. She wore a golden robe, and her tan boots were lined with bright green.
Christopher, as he apparently was called, cleared his throat. “I think what Taryn is trying to say is…we’re ghosts.”
Now my gaze turned to disbelief. They looked so real!
“This is the only place we can be solid,” he explained. “These are the Woods of the Past.”
“What school are you?” I questioned.
“I’m Death. And Taryn is–”
“I can introduce myself, Chris!” Taryn said. I was surprised to hear a large amount of resentment in her voice. Evidently, she really didn’t like Christopher. I wondered why.
Christopher rolled his eyes, but the girl didn’t see it. She had already turned away and was looking straight at me. “I’m Taryn WildHeart. I’m the first Balance Seeker.” She turned to Liam and Vanessa, who were still side by side, and she smiled warmly at them. “I was so happy when I found out there would be two Balance Seekers!” Then gave Liam a disapproving glance. “If only you hadn’t disgraced our school.”
Liam looked away, appearing uncomfortable.
Another girl in the crowd stepped forward. I was surprised to see that her clothes looked an awful lot like mine – unlike the others I had seen, she was wearing MooShu clothing instead of Dragonspyre armor. Her robes were also colored blue and white, resembling mine. “I’m one of the past Ice Seekers, Meagan BlueGarden.”
“One of them?”
She looked away regretfully.
“Meagan can’t cast any spells,” a girl that also wore blue robes said. “It’s how her life was affected by dark magic. She had a curse placed over her by one of the Deathbringers.”
“Um… long story.”
“You’re her replacement, then?” Vanessa asked.
“Replacement? Oh, no. Don’t think of yourself like that, Vanessa! You’re as much a Seeker as anyone else.”
“Thanks… I think.”
I stared at all of these Seekers, particularly Meagan and the other girl in blue. Were they my ancestors? Hadn’t someone once told me that Seekers were all related, just skipped generations or something?
Then I remembered where we were. “Before any other introductions are made, can someone please tell us why we’re here?”
Christopher looked at another boy in the crowd, and the boy sighed, and stepped forward. I noticed he was wearing green. “I’m Zachary DreamMender. I… guess I’m here to awaken the Life Seeker.”
I stared in shock. “Isn’t it supposed to be a creature of the school to awaken them?”
“You mean a Spiral Guardian.”
“Maybe. What does that mean?”
“They’re the creatures to awaken Seekers,” Christopher said matter-of-factly.
“Right. That's it. Um, so, why are you guys here instead?”
“The Spiral Guardians have… problems to attend to. There has been an unusually high level of dark magic in the Spiral lately. Malistaire is gaining followers.”
“We kind of figured that out,” I said, glowering pointedly at Liam.
“Anyway, we were sent here instead. From now on we’ll be your guide.”
Guide… hadn’t I heard that somewhere?
“Oh!” I called out, the memory slowly returning. “The guys that awaken Seekers–”
“Spiral Guardians!” Zachary reminded me.
“Yeah, those. In the Spiral Tower, they said they might send a guide. But they never did.”
“Yes, they did!” Taryn spoke up. “I was there!”
“You were?” I said, confused.
“Well… yeah. And Chris. And Eric.”
I didn’t know who “Eric” was, but I was pretty sure I hadn’t seen him or the other two. “When did you guide us?”
“When you and Mark tried to enter the building, I opened the door,” Christopher informed.
“I was the one who led you up the ladder,” Taryn added.
“I was the one upstairs by the back door,” another boy said. I decided he must be Eric, and was probably Fire from the red color of his robes. “And in the forest a few minutes ago, I led you back to your friends. Sounds in here can get distorted and sound like they’re coming from directions they’re not, so I thought you might need some help.”
“That was you?” I gasped.
“But… it was just movement. You only… you can’t be…” I shook my head.
“Um, can we back up a little,” Rowan said, and I jumped. I’d almost forgotten the other Seekers were here. “Can someone tell me – who’s the Life Seeker?”
“You are,” Taryn said.
She was silent for a while, and then said, “You know what? …I already knew.”
“Really?” I said.
She looked at her shoes in embarrassment. “Yeah. It’s why I was captured. Handy went weird, and that’s how I was affected by dark magic. And it’s why that person behind the door called me Seeker.”
I stared at her. She was right. I had even more clues than she did, and all of them fit Rowan perfectly.
“What about Scarlet?” I said weakly. I still had a faint hope that they were wrong. That Rowan wasn’t a Seeker.
“Scarlet who?” Christopher asked.
That alone should have proven that my faith in her had been totally wrong, but I persisted. “Scarlet MoonHeart. She was with us at Vanessa’s awakening.”
At least he knew who she was.
“She would have been a great Seeker,” Zachary said. “Her parents were captured by Malistaire because of their power. They were great wizards, but they were no match for Malistaire’s dark magic. Scarlet doesn’t know it yet, but they were killed.” He shook his head sadly. “She didn’t have the power to be a Seeker, however. Unlike you, Rowan.”
“But… what do I do?”
“Usually you would have to assist the others on their quest to find the other Seekers, but since you’re the last one…” Christopher began.
“It’s time,” Zachary said with finality.
“Time? Time for what?” Victoria inquired. Then she stopped and a fearful expression came over her face. “Oh, no. You don’t mean–”
“Yep,” Taryn confirmed. “It’s time for you to defeat Malistaire Drake.”
“We can’t do it,” Mark said. I was stunned. Usually he was our always-eager, always-optimistic member. If he didn’t think we were ready… I couldn’t imagine what was going through the others’ minds.
“Yes, you can!” Christopher argued. “The way you escaped from Malistaire’s lair proved that.”
“Well… we weren’t alone,” I admitted. “We had help.” I couldn’t stop myself from glancing at Liam. Even if the trapdoor had been destroyed, he still told us where it was.
“Who helped you?” he challenged.
“Well, the dragons did. You know, Mister Muffin and Lady Rascal,” I said. “And–”
“The point, Sierra, is that you had to rely on your friends. Besides, you won’t be alone in the final battle either, will you?” Taryn reasoned.
I scanned the room, full of my closest friends. There was Sydney JadeHammer, my best friend. I had a feeling she would risk her own life to save mine, or anyone else we knew. Standing next to her was Victoria RavenSmith. From what I had seen, she was sometimes a bit shy, and kind of pessimistic, but she would face anything if she needed. Mark DarkCrafter always knew how to cheer us up, no matter how annoying he became. Hunter ThunderShield… well, he wasn’t exactly your ideal teammate, but when he chose to use Treasure Cards, he could be unstoppable. Vanessa DreamHaven was very supportive, and I knew she would be an amazing ally. And my sister, Rowan WIllowLeaf… she always cared for everything, and I couldn’t imagine her fighting evil. But I knew she would still help us. All my friends had fantastic qualities.
…But what about me?
I wasn’t really good at anything. Ice wasn’t very powerful, so I couldn’t help with attacking. I had lots of healing treasure cards from my sister, but what use was I when a real healer was right there? My defense was my only benefit, and what good would that do for my friends? Even Liam had been loyal to his family, willing to sacrifice anything for them. But what would I do if it was a choice between me and my friends? I’d love to be all brave and say I would risk my life as long as they lived, but honestly… I wasn’t sure.
I realized that Taryn was still awaiting an answer. I replied slowly, “I guess you’re right.”
“Good.” She beamed. “That’s the first step. Another is realizing that you may have more allies than you know.”
“Yes, yes. Okay,” I said, nodding solemnly without truly understanding.
“Now go to the headmaster. He will know what to do. And I’m sure you will want to tell him what you have done.”
“Yeah, definitely!” I said, thinking about how proud the headmaster would be. I had finally completed my mission! My heart beat faster with excitement.
“Um, before we go…” Sydney began.
All fifteen pairs of eyes turned to her, and she blushed. “I was just, you know… wondering who the Fire Seeker was.”
“That would be me.” As I suspected, it was the boy dressed in red that had been one of my “guides”. “I’m Eric FireSword.”
“While we’re at it, I will introduce all of the past Seekers,” Christopher said. “Meagan BlueGarden and Victoria FireFinder are Ice; Gavin StormBlood is Storm; Ryan HexTamer is Myth; Zachary DreamMender is Life; Eric FireSword is Fire; and I’m Death.” He pointed to each person as he introduced them, but I doubted I would remember their names.
“What about me?” Taryn huffed.
“You said you didn’t want me introducing you,” Christopher said firmly, but he was smiling.
She glowered at him, but, like before, he ignored her, returning to us. He looked straight at me. “You don’t understand what an honor it is to be a Seeker leader, do you, Sierra?”
“I don’t know. Not really. Why?”
“I didn’t like it much at first, either. But if grows on you after a while. So do your teammates.” He grinned. “Unless you have someone like Taryn. At least she talks to me now. You should have seen it when we first met. She tried to push me off a cliff.”
“I said I was sorry,” Taryn grumbled.
This only made me more confused. For some reason, Taryn really hadn’t liked Christopher.
A girl in Myth school clothing declared, “Can we leave now? We’re done, aren’t we?”
“What’s wrong with us?” I asked indignantly. “Who are you?”
“Ryan HexTamer,” she said. “Weren’t you listening to Chris?”
I stared. “Isn’t Ryan a boy’s name?”
“Ugh!” she moaned, her eyes flashing with anger, but Christopher interrupted, saying, “Yeah, I think it’s time Sierra and her team leave. I’m sure you have a lot to think about. You need to prepare.
I nodded, but when I thought about “preparing,” I shuddered. I highly doubted I would ever prepare enough for what I was about to face.
We left the supposed “Woods of the Past” through another portal made by Zachary with a leaf identical to Rowan’s (though, for all we knew, it could just as well had been the same one since Rowan had lost hers). Though they hadn’t mentioned it, I had a feeling we would be seeing Christopher and the past Seekers again very soon.
The portal transported Sydney, Hunter, Rowan and I into the area where the original portal was supposed to take us – MooShu Spirit World, with Kagemoosha awaiting a fight. I guessed the other Seekers had been taken back to wherever they had been before. However, except for Hunter, who was fascinated by the new wonders of the Spirit World, we were all too worn out to fight. Everyone went home, besides me. I had to talk to Headmaster Ambrose.
I teleported to the Commons and walked to the headmaster’s house. With every step my anticipation grew, and I became more and more ecstatic. This was it! I was going to tell Headmaster Ambrose everything, then head to Dragonspyre, and defeat Malistaire, and everything would be okay again. I forgot about the fear and challenges and danger, it only for a moment. I saw my mission as just another simple quest, and I could enjoy it.
It didn’t last long.
I burst into the headmaster’s house screaming, “Professor Ambrose, I did it! I found all the Seekers! I–” I stopped as I realized how empty his office was. It was never like this – there were always some kids in here, even if the headmaster was out. Not today. Everything was eerily quiet.
“Headmaster?” I called again, walking a bit farther into the vacant space. “Hello? Is anyone here?”
I swung open the doors into the next room, where Gamma the owl usually sat. He wasn’t there either. That was strange, too. Headmaster Ambrose would never leave his office unattended, unless…
My heart pounding, I raced back into the cluttered office, hurrying to his desk. I wasn’t really sure what I was looking for, but I started filing through papers and opening drawers, hoping for some clue at the headmaster’s disappearance.
It was then that I heard a sickeningly familiar voice say, “Looking for something?”
I looked up and gasped. “Mary.”
Mary RavenGem was standing there like a living nightmare, her hands on her hips and a smirk on her face. She shook her head. “Did you really think that you would ever win?”
“How did you–”
“–Know you were here?” she finished. “Well, your friend Liam certainly helped.”
Actually, I was going to ask her how she had made it through Ravenwood without anyone sensing her. Some of the Spiral’s most powerful wizards lived here, and one was bound to feel her dark magic. But her answer only infuriated me, and I forgot my inquiry. “Liam told you? How dare he! I… I trusted him! We let him attend such an important Seeker meeting, and… and…”
“He betrays you,” Mary said, examining her wand casually as though she didn’t care about the conversation at all. “Yes, that’s the one. Don’t you have more important things to do anyway, Sierra? Like tell the headmaster about your wonderful accomplishment?”
I just glared at her, stunned into a furious silence.
As usual, she pretended like she couldn’t see my bad mood, and smiled. “You know what? I think I’ll help you out. You do want to save your friends, right?”
“What, you didn’t know about them? Oh, what were their names? There was that girl in the Ice school who gave us quite a hard time, talking all the while about her friends Victoria coming for her.”
“Jasmine?” I whispered, a lump forming in my throat.
She snapped her fingers. “Right! And there was a Pyromancer and Theurgist as well.”
“Seth? Scarlet?” They were my closest friends, besides all the Seekers. If Malistaire had taken them…
Mary beamed again, but this time it was more taunting and menacing, like she was challenging me. “Aren’t you smart,” she said with mock amazement. “You’re phenomenal.”
“Where are they?” I demanded, taking a threatening step forward.
Mary didn’t even flinch. “I’m sure that when you see it, you will recognize it.”
“What? Just… just tell me where they are.”
She shrugged, and then pointed her wand at me. “You’ll have to find out.”
Flicking her wand, she smiled and waved.
Before I could stop it, I was teleporting.