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The Order of Zarai

Original Version

”The last battle against the Dark has left the Order of Zarai in a fairly weak state. We won the battle, but we lost in many ways as well. Two Fighters and a Protector were killed. Another Protector is in serious condition and might not survive. But worst of all, one Protector deserted his Fighter to go to the side of the Dark. The Fighter was almost killed until a member of the High Council stepped in and served as her Protector.

“I cannot tell you much about the Fighter except that she is known to us as Zarine, and that the Protector was her brother. No one knows what her real name is, or her current location, although I have been told that she might be in your area. I have been ordered by the High Council to find her and make her part of my group. I am charging you with finding her. She is very strong so you will have to be very careful looking for her. Seeker, do you think you can find her?”

“Yes, Leader. I think I can find her. I will begin my search in Laysan tonight.”

The Leader nodded approvingly. “Good, the faster she is found, the faster we can find her a new Protector and have her begin her work with the Order of Zarai again.”

* * *

The battle raged on around her. Fighters and Protectors fought the monsters of the Dark; some won, some lost, and some would never fight again. Zarine had to hold back tears as she heard the cries of her fallen comrades.

The monster before her stood ten feet tall, and made her look extremely small and the battle unevenly matched. This was Corin, the half-human dragon. Any other Fighter except Zarine would have been scared out of their wits. They had fought each other many times before. Whenever there was a battle, they always seemed to find each other. Neither had ever walked away the victor.

Today was going to be different. Each had vowed it would end here. One of them would die this time. Zarine’s sword of silver light appeared in her hand. She swung at Corin’s arm, only to be blocked. Her sword instantly turned to a shield of the same silvery light as Corin tried to punch her. While Corin recovered from the shock of his blow being blocked, Zarine made her shield disappear, and a ball of fire flew from her hand straight at her adversary. Corin’s scream of pain was deafening. Fire was his only weakness and nothing could save him now.

Zarine turned and walked away, hoping the other Fighters were faring as well. Darian, her brother and Protector, came up and walked beside her.

“Are you okay? You look weak,” he said, concerned.

“Using magic like that always makes me tired. I’ll be fine as soon as this is over.”

“Yes, so will I…” Darian murmured.

Suddenly, there was a huge bolt of lightening. Zarine screamed in pain as she was thrown against the ground. Darian rushed over to her side. “Zarine, are you all right?”

“I’ll live,” she said with a weak laugh. She tried to get up, but Darian held her down.

“Zarine if you try to get up now you’ll make yourself even worse,” he said as he got up and backed away.

In truth, Zarine knew she was doing very badly. She was barely clinging to consciousness. Zarine struggled to her feet while Darian told her it was better to lay still.

“Darian, I’m not going to lie around and wait to die. Whoever shot that lightening knows what they’re doing. I’m not going to be caught off guard again. Darian, scout the area.”

“Stop, that won’t be necessary.”

Zarine whirled around and found herself facing Vincent, the Head of the Dark’s army. Vincent was the most powerful person in the Dark, save their leader, Xavier. He wore a uniform of all black. To denote his rank, two silver bars rested on his collar. His long black hair was tied back. He was the most handsome person Zarine had ever seen, but that only added to his evil appearance.

Zarine shifted into a fighter’s stance, ignoring the pain it took to do so. Vincent stared at her and laughed. “No, Zarine, it is not our time yet. As much as you and I would like to finish this now, we can’t. I do have my orders. I came for someone else.” He glanced at Darien. “Darien are you ready? The leader is expecting you, and it is not wise to keep him waiting.”

With one last look at Zarine, his sister, Darien walked toward Vincent and kneeled at his feet. “Yes, I am ready.”

“Darien, no not you,” Zarine whispered. Vincent laughed cruelly as he opened a portal, which he and Darien stepped through. Pain and emotion overflowed as Zarine felt herself falling into darkness. Before she lost consciousness, she heard a voice say:

“Zarine, you are safe now. I’ll not let you die.”

* * *

Amy suddenly woke from her dream. She slowed her breathing down to a normal rate before climbing out of bed. She walked over to the window, and opened the blinds to look out. An unfamiliar street looked back at her. The sky was still dark, which caused Amy to glance at her digital alarm clock: 2:30. She sighed and climbed back into bed.

I have a new house, new room, and a new street. Why can’t I have a new life too? This is the third time I’ve had this dream. Why won’t it go away? I remember what happened. Why won’t it go away? I hope Darian is doing ok Amy thought to herself as she tried restlessly to go back to sleep.

* * *

Amy awoke with a yawn. Her sleep had been interrupted many times with visions of her past fights as Zarine. Amy got out of bed, and nearly tripped on unpacked boxes as she made her way to the closet. At least I don’t have to worry about what I have to wear. The school has decided that for me,she thought as she pulled out her school uniform out of the closet. The uniform was a knee length navy pleated skirt worn with a plain round neck white blouse and a navy vest. Amy who avidly believed in being your own person found the school uniform to be the single most humiliating outfit she had ever worn. To her it didn’t seem fair that everyone was begin forced to look like everyone else. If this had been her old school, Amy would have objected, but now, she didn’t dare.

At this school we are expected to behave like ladies and gentleman, and not agreeing with what we are told to believe in will get you expelled Amy thought as she brushed her long reddish-brown hair in front of her vanity mirror. She rummaged through her jewelry box until she found what she was looking for: her silver locket. She opened the oval locket and looked at the pictures inside. One was of her mother and father, and the other a young man of about seventeen whose eyes were smiling even if his face was not. Darian, her brother and former Protector.

That had been her family once. Now, only Amy and her mother remained. Her father had abandoned them and no one had any idea what had happened to Darian, although Amy knew the truth. After the battle, Amy had been found on the brink of death and Darian had been nowhere to be found. Amy had lived and explained things by saying she did not remember what had happened. Amy took one last look at the pictures before closing it and fastening the locket around her neck. The only thing left was to put on her shoes. Amy pulled her black ankle boots out of one of the still unpacked boxes. Amy left her room, went into the hallway and tried to remember how to get to the kitchen.

The new house was large and maze-like. They had moved into the snobbish part of town and their house was nowhere as big as the others. Amy decided to go to her left and was delighted to find the stairs that led to the ground floor. Amy entered the kitchen and was surprised to find that her mother was not up yet. The kitchen was in even worse disarray than her room and Amy decided to would be best to have a small breakfast. While eating a bagel, Amy wrote a not for her mother:

Mom,
I decided to go to school
Today. I’m going to walk
There. Don’t worry, I know
The way.
Amy

She put the note on the table where it was sure to be seen and walked out the door.

* * *

Amy was almost to school when she saw the Shadow. Amy knew the Shadow was looking for her, but she was not afraid. It had been sent to look, not kill. But even so, Amy began preparing to fight. Suddenly the Shadow disappeared. Amy stared at the sky in shock. Even though the Shadows could be used as spies they usually were not. I can’t worry about that now. I have to get to school or I’m going to be late Amy thought. She suddenly laughed. Maybe everything’s going to be fine. I’ve never worried about being late before.

When Amy reached the school, she was shocked. The building was amazing. It was a very large mansion, and it almost looked like a castle with its spiral towers. An iron fence, with its gates wide opened surrounded the building. Groups of students were arriving together. The whole effect was rather welcoming.

Amy walked through the gates into the courtyard. The door to go in was surrounded was a border of intertwining vines. The inside of the mansion was just as spectacular as the outside. It did almost look like a castle. There were even candle sconces on the wall with candles in them. Amy just stood and stared.

When she brought herself back to reality, she found she was standing outside the main office. This was exactly where she wanted to be. Because this was her first day, she had to check in here. There would be plenty of forms to fill out and she would probably miss the first class of the day.

Amy straightened her skirt and check to make sure her hair was perfect. I feel so foolish. I’ve never worried about how I looked before or about making a good impression. Amy shook her head in disgust and pushed open the door.

The main office was completely modern, and it was like stepping into a totally different world. All of Amy’s confidence failed her. She started to turn around and leave, but at that moment, the secretary noticed her.

“Excuse me, can I help you?”

Amy turned around, and trying to sound confident said: “Yes. I just moved to town and was told that on my first day I had to come here.” The secretary gave her a blank look. “I’m Amy Danzer,” she added as an afterthought.

The secretary gave her a look that said, ‘oh, that explains everything.’ The secretary started walking to the door that led to the principal’s office. “I’ll be with you in a minute.”

* * *

Jordan, Brian, and Anne sat in the back row of their history class. The teacher, Mrs. Laten, was an old lady or about fifty. Her hair, which everyone was sure was dyed brown, was piled in a bun on the top of her head. Her suit was as plain as anything can be, but seemed to match her personality perfectly.

The classroom was just as boring. The desks were arranged in a four by five rectangle, and all but the one in the back left corner were filled. The walls had a few pictures of the early presidents and the Declaration of Independence. Mrs. Laten’s desk, uncluttered and very organized was in the front of the room.

At the moment, Mrs. Laten was droning on about how she graded their work. Jordan glanced over at Brian and Anne and smiled. Brian was yawning, and Anne was studying her fingernails intently. Jordan groaned inwardly when he looked at the clock. There were still twenty minutes left to class. Why did the first class of the day have to be history?

A knock at the door stopped Mrs. Laten’s lecture, and as she went to answer it, a low buzz rose in the classroom. Anne turned to Jordan. “I forgot to ask, what did the Leader want to see you about yesterday?”

Jordan quickly glanced around to make sure no one was listening. “Anthony wants me to fine some Fighter named Zarine. You know how the Dark has been acting up lately. Well, he thinks the only person who can stop them is this Zarine. There’s something really weird about her though. Last night when I went to Laysan a High Council member named Donovan told me to abort the mission. I haven’t been able to tell Anthony yet though.”

“Wow,” Anne said. She was about to say something else, but everyone had stopped talking because Mr. Candell had entered the room and was with a room with a girl that no one recognized.

“Who’s that?” Anne whispered.

Jordan shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know.” He stared intently at her so he could see her aura. There was nothing, no matter how hard he tried. Auras told a lot about a person, and that this girl didn’t have one left few possibilities. Either she was from the Dark, she knew how to hide an aura from a Seeker, or she wasn’t human. Jordan was leaning toward the possibility that she could hide and aura. That would mean that she was very powerful. Only High Council members had that kind of power, and Jordan was sure this girl was too young to be on the Council.

Mrs. Laten broke into his thoughts by speaking. “Class, this is Amy Danzer. She just moved to this town, and this will be her first year at the academy,” she turned to Amy and said softer. “You can go sit in the back, near the corner.”

“Thank you Mrs. Laten.”

Amy moved to the empty desk in the back of the room. She pulled out the chair and sat down. She could feel everyone’s eyes on her as Mr. Candell and Mrs. Laten continued to talk. She stared at her desk so she would not have to see what they thought of her reflected in their eyes. What is wrong with me? I’ve never acted this way before. All I’ve worried about today is making a good impression. I’ve never done that before.

Amy slowly lifted her eyes from her desk and met the gazes of her classmates. Many lowered their eyes. There was loneliness and danger in her eyes. There was also a hint of innocence hidden there. Amy’s eyes had given many people nightmares; there was something there that told of something lost that could never be regained. By the time Mr. Candell and Mrs. Laten were done talking no one dared to look in Amy’s way. She had managed to turn a whole class against her without saying a word.

Brian, Jordan, and Anne exchanged troubled glances. They knew Amy’s eyes well. They had seen the look many times in Zarai’s Fighters. But Jordan knew there was no way she could be any normal Fighter. No Fighter was taught to hide an aura. That scared him.

Eventually class ended and even Amy heaves a sigh of relief when the bell rang. As she got up, she studied her schedule to find where she belonged next.

Jordan, Anne, and Brian stood in a group getting all of their things together. Jordan noticed Amy looking at her schedule. He looked at his friends. “I’ll be right back.”

He walked over to Amy. “Do you need help getting to your next class?”

“Amy looked up at the sound of his voice. “Yes. Thank you. It says here that I have science with Mr. Claten in room 260.”

Jordan smiled. “That just happens to be where my friends and I are going. You are welcome to walk with us.”

Amy looked startled. “Thank you.”

Jordan motioned Amy over to his friends. “Amy, these are my friends Brian and Anne. I’m Jordan”

Everyone mumbled their greetings and walked out of class. No one said much until they walked by a door that led to one of the mansion’s towers. Amy walked over to it and placed her hand on the door. “Where does this lead?” she asked softly.

Jordan answered before Brian or Anne could. “It leads to one of the towers. I think they use it for storage.”

“Oh,” Amy whispered. She walked away and rejoined the group. They hurried on to science in silence.

In science, Jordan paid no attention to what Mr. Claten was saying. He was too busy writing a note to Anne and Brian. When Mr. Claten’s back was turned Jordan whispered loudly “Anne.” She put her hand out discretely to receive the note. The three of them were experts at passing notes without getting caught.

Anne opened the note, and read it while it was sitting on her lap out of view.

Anne, Brian
I’m worried. She doesn’t have an aura. She’s too young to be strong enough to hide it. Her eyes look like a Fighters’. Any input on that Brian? She also noticed the tower where we have our meetings. She knows there’s something up there. We need to talk to Anthony. I don’t think it’s safe for me to handle this by myself.
Jordan

When Anne was done, she passed the note to Brian. He read it quickly, and then began writing on the other side of the paper. When he was done, he passed it to Anne. She read it quickly and alarm spread over her face. Anne looked over at Brian and he nodded grimly. Anne passed the note to Jordan as if she didn’t want to see or think about it.

When Jordan got the note he wondered what could have upset Anne so. He unfolded it.

Jordan, Anne,
We’re in trouble. No aura? Are you sure? If she’s from the Dark I don’t want to have anything to do with her. If she’s not human, does that mean we have to kill her? If she’s one of us why hasn’t she said anything? She doesn’t remind me on any Fighter I’ve ever known. We have to talk to Anthony fast. First that Shadow this morning, and now her. I don’t think it’s a coincidence.
Brian

Jordan knew he now wore the same grim expression as Anne and Brian. Donovan’s words came back to him: “She’s very good at hiding.” Could this girl be Zarine? Somehow she didn’t fit the image he had in his mind. He sighed and tried to pay attention to what Mr. Claten was saying. Somehow one of them had to get downstairs into Anthony’s office.

He glanced over at Amy. She seemed to be truly interested in what Mr. Claten was saying. She hadn’t seemed to notice when they had passed the note. She was totally unaware. Anne tapped on her desk, and Jordan looked over at her. Anne motioned with her hand toward the door. She then looked over at Brian to see if he had seen. Brian nodded. Anne planned to go to Anthony’s office.

Anne raised her hand to get Mr. Claten’s attention.

“Yes…” he looked at the seating chart. “Anne, how can I help you?”

“May I be excused for a moment?” she asked sweetly.

“Only if you hurry,” he replied.

Anne walked to the front of the room to get her pass and then she walked into the hallway. Anne then ducked into a dark corner. I’ll be safer if I’m invisible, she thought. When she was sure that no one would be able to see her, she walked down the stairs, past Mrs. Laten’s room, and to the Main Office. The door was open so she didn’t have to worry about going through it. Anthony’s door was closed, though, so it took her a few moments to mentally convince the molecules in the door to allow her invisible form through.

Anthony was sitting at his desk when Anne walked in. She coughed once to get his attention, and when he looked up she became visible. If Anthony felt any distress at her sudden appearance he didn’t show it. “Hi Anne. Can I help you with anything?”

Anne sat down. “According to Jordan and Brian, we’re all in a lot of trouble. Something to do with Amy. I can’t give all the details; I don’t know them.”,/p>

“Okay,” Anthony said. “Is a meeting after school soon enough?”

Anne looked thoughtful. “I think so,” she said slowly. “Oh, we saw a Shadow this morning.”

“I know; I saw it too. I wouldn’t be too worried though. It didn’t kill anyone.”

“That’s a relief. I have to go,” Anne said. She stood up and cast her spell of invisibility, and walked through the door. The trip back to class was uneventful. When she stepped back into the classroom, both Jordan and Brian looked relieved to see her. She sat back down in her seat, and they both looked at her expectantly. She shook her head and mouthed “later.” The rest of the class time was spent listening to the various activities that they would be doing this year.

The bell rang, and by a quick comparison of schedules it was found that Anne and Brian had a different class than Jordan and Amy. They split up, with Amy and Jordan going to the third floor, and Anne and Brian going back down to the first. On the way to class, Amy was silent, and eventually Jordan got up the nerve to talk.

“So what brings you to this town? No one ever seems to move here,” he asked.

“My mother’s work transferred her here,” Amy answered.

“Wow, it must be hard for you to have to leave your home like that.”

“No, not really. I have too many bad memories of that place. Being there reminded me of things I was trying to forget,” she said softly.

Jordan was silent after that. Who are you Amy? Why does something about you feel so familiar, yet so distant? What are you trying to forget? I want to help you, but you won’t let me close. He thought. Maybe I don’t want to get too close. If you’re someone we’re going to have to kill, it will only make it harder.

* * *

Anne and Brian walked to their third period class: English. A class they both hated, but that was not what was on their minds today. Once again the Order of Zarai had found a way to turn their lives upside down. It had been pretty calm for a while. When they entered English class, Eric, Brian’s Fighter was already there.

Eric and the team did not get along. Eric could he described as “Mr. Popularity.” There was no way he could fit into their crowd, or they in his. The High Council chose who became who’s Protector, and Brian unfortunately had gotten stuck with arrogant, cowardly Eric.

And right now, unfortunately, Anne and Brian had to talk to him. “Come on, it won’t be so bad if we go together,” Anne whispered. They walked up to him and mumbled their greetings.

“There’s a meeting today in the usual place,” Brian said just loud enough for Eric to hear.

“It’s mandatory,” Anne said cheerfully.

“But I had plans,” Eric whined.

“Cancel them,” Brian and Anne said in unison as they walked away.

* * *

Far away, across the realm of Laysan, and deep into the Dark, a man watched the events that were unfolding. Vincent chuckled. “Oh Zarine, I never thought that you would go as far as denying yourself. I am so looking forward to our next meeting. That is, if you survive what I have planned for you this afternoon,” he said as a Shadow floated into the room.

Shadows could not talk, as they did not have any permanent physical appearance that would provide for a mouth, but Vincent as the Head of the Dark’s army could tap into their souls and listen to their thoughts. He did this now, and saw how this Shadow planned to kill Zarine this afternoon. He laughed a cruel laugh as he imagined how she would die. You will have to reveal yourself now. And then your new Leader can watch as you and all his hopes for his pathetic town are destroyed. This thought made Vincent laugh harder. His only regret would be that he would not be there to deliver the final blow himself.

“What’s so funny?” a sarcastic voice said.

Vincent turned to see Darian and Lilith, Xavier’s adopted daughter, enter the room. Xavier was the Leader of the Dark.

“Oh, nothing that would concern you Darian,” Vincent answered back.

“Oh, really?” Darian answered back. The two of them were archenemies. Each of them competed for Xavier’s favor all the time.

“But if you must know,” Vincent said in a bored tone. “I just sent your sister her death. Not that you would care after the way you left her to die before.”

For the briefest moment, Darian’s face showed the deepest concern for his sister, but it vanished as suddenly as it appeared. Vincent smiled at his moment of weakness. So he does still care. How interesting…

“Enough you two,” Lilith said in a cold authoritative voice. “Vincent, my father wishes to see you immediately.” She turned on one heel, and marched out of the room.

“Well, duty calls. Another time Darian.”

“Yes, another time.” Darian answered fiercely as Vincent left.

* * *

At the end of the day, Anne, Brian, and Jordan told Amy that they had to hurry home, so they would not be able to walk with her. Amy told them that she was planning on talking to some of her teachers anyways. They then left to go to the tower doorway to meet Anthony in their meeting place. They waited until most of the people in the hallway were gone before they opened the door. There was a winding stairway leading up to the room. The stairs had to be walked on carefully and quietly so they would not make any noise.

At the top of the staircase, there was a midnight blue crystal. This was a Sensor. To enter the room, you had to place your hand on it. If it glowed, it identified you as a member of the Order of Zarai. If it didn’t, you could only go as far as the staircase.

Anthony was not there yet, so Anne, Brian, and Jordan went and sat at the meeting table. The table was round, and another crystal was in the middle of the table. The one was a light purple. This crystal was called a Communicator, and it was used to talk to the High Council. The table usually held enough chairs for everyone in their group, which was Anthony, Anne, Brian, Jordan, and Eric, but today there was a sixth and seventh chair to the right of Anthony’s.

By the markings on the chairs, everyone could tell they were for a Fighter and a Protector. Anne, Brian, and Jordan exchanged troubled looks. The Fighter’s chair was for Zarine, but whose was the Protector’s?

They had no time to discuss the matter though. Anthony had arrived with Eric tailing behind.

“Sorry I’m late. If we all sit down, we can get started,” Anthony said.

Everyone sat down with Jordan to Anthony’s left, followed by Anne, Brian, Eric, and the empty chairs. The atmosphere was uneasy until Anthony spoke.

“I hear you guys are having problems,” Anthony said gently.

“It’s more like one problem, Amy,” Brian said.

“She has no aura,” Jordan piped in.

“Her eyes have the look of a Fighter, but she doesn’t act like one,” Amy added.

Anthony looked worried. “That is a problem. Anne, I agree with you. I talked to her earlier, and I got no feeling she was one of us.”

“Donovan said she was good at hiding,” Jordan reflected.

“Who’s Donovan?” Anthony asked.

Before Jordan could answer, and loud scream and a thump echoed through the air. Everyone ran to the window. Outside there was a Shadow and an injured Amy. The Shadow seemed to be attacking her, and she was trying to defend herself.

The sight outside angered Jordan and before anyone could stop him, he was running down the stairs shouting, “I have to help her.”

* * *

Amy had only screamed once before in her entire life. That had been when the lightening had hit her. Now she was facing something just as deadly, except this time there was no escape. No Fighter had ever defeated a Shadow.

The Shadow had already managed to hit her once. Her arm was bleeding profusely, and she was already feeling lightheaded. It wouldn’t be long before she passed out. Amy was determined to destroy the Shadow before that happened. The odds were against her, but then again, when weren’t they?

Jordan arrived outside just in time to see Amy throw a ball of fire at the Shadow. It had no effect. Undaunted, Amy then threw a beam of silvery light. The Shadow howled in pain.

“So you can be hurt,” Amy mused.

Her sword appeared in her hand, but before she could swing, the Shadow knocked it out of her hand. It landed several yards away, out of her reach. The Shadow began circling around her, preparing to deliver the finishing blow.

Jordan darted for the sword. “Amy,” he shouted as he threw it to her. Anthony, Anne, Brian, and Eric rushed out of the building and watched in horror.

Amy caught her sword, and there was a flash of light. The Shadow screamed as it exploded. When the light cleared, Amy fell to her knees; the only thing holding her up was her sword.

Anthony rushed to her side and did the strongest healing spell he knew. Amy’s wounded flesh slowly began to knit together. Soon, Amy’s arm was healed, but the skin was very tender, and it wouldn’t take much to break it open again. [Amy looked at him through tearful eyes. “He didn’t come,” she whispered. “He knew Vincent was going to send that, and he didn’t do anything to stop it. He was going to let me die… again.”]

Amy’s eyes suddenly became very wide. “Look out!” she shouted as she pushed Anthony out of the way. A piece of the Shadow had come back to life, and was advancing to kill Amy. She grabbed her sword, and with one swift swing she cleaved it in two. “That should do it,” Amy said. She walked over to Anthony and helped him up. “I’m sorry, Mr. Candell. I had to be quick, and you were in my way.”

“That’s all right,” he said. “Oh, and call me Anthony. Everyone else does,” he said, looking at his group.

Eric rushed to Amy’s side. “Can you teach me how to do that?” he asked excitedly.

Amy ignored him. “Well, it’s been fun, but I have to go.” She cast a transport spell and disappeared.

“What were you saying about trouble?” Anthony asked his group. No one answered.

* * *

Back in the tower, everyone sat at the table trying to figure out what to do. The two extra chairs glared at them.

“So what you’re saying is that she’s stronger than any other Fighter in the last thousand years?” Eric questioned.

“That’s it,” Jordan answered.

The room was uneasy. Anthony sat in his chair at the table, with his head in his hands. He was deep in thought. He lifted his head and stared straight at Jordan. “Who is Donovan?” he asked.

Jordan cleared his throat before answering. “He’s the High Council member who told me to stop looking for Zarine.”

“Did he tell you anything else?” Anthony asked.

“Yes. He said I wouldn’t be able to find her if I tried. He told me that Zarine is emotionally unstable and wouldn’t care if she lived or die if we asked her to fight.”

Anthony didn’t try to hide his emotions. “Great,” he said. “Not only is she crazy, she doesn’t have a Protector, she’s injured, and she doesn’t care.”

“Calm down Anthony,” Anne said. “We’ll find a way through this. We always have before.”

“You’re right,” he said. “Listen, you guys can go home now. There’s nothing more we can do tonight.”

* * *

When Amy arrived home, her mother wasn’t there, for which she was grateful. She stumbled up the stairs, and worked her way toward her room. Anthony may have healed her wound, but she still had lost a lot of blood. When she got to her room, she passed out on her bed, and fell into a delirious sleep. And there, she dreamed.

* * *

“Zarine, this is your Protector, Darian. I’ll give you two time to get acquainted.”

“That won’t be necessary.”

“Why?”

“Because Darian is my brother.”

* * *

When Amy finally awoke, her room was dark, and she could hear sounds coming from the kitchen downstairs. She sat up on the bed, and pain instantly shot through her head. Amy groaned inwardly, and gritted her teeth against the pain. At least my arm doesn’t hurt anymore she thought as she slowly stood up.

Before leaving her room, Amy looked into a mirror. At least I don’t look as bad as I feel. I hope Mom doesn’t notice anything. I hate lying to her. Amy walked downstairs to the kitchen.

Her mom was making a dinner of hamburgers when Amy walked into the kitchen. Her mother looked up. “Hello sleepyhead. How was your first day of school?”

“Oh, it was great. The people here are so nice. I might like it here.” Amy said as she gave her mom a hug. “Dinner smells great,” Amy said.

“Thank you. You woke up just in time. It’s almost ready,” her mother said.

Amy walked over to the cupboard and took out plates and began setting the table. They sat down for a peaceful meal, and Amy was asked no questions even though the pain shown through clear on her face.

* * *

Vincent paced angrily outside the door to Xavier’s chamber. No Fighter should be able to defeat a Shadow. In fact, no Shadow had died in over one thousand years. He could feel their unease about the loss of their comrade through his link to them. It was almost overwhelming.

The door to Xavier’s chamber opened, and Lilith and Darian were escorted out by two servants. Darian looked like he wanted to laugh, and Lilith had on the cool emotionless face she always wore.

“My Father will see you now, Vincent.” Lilith said.

Vincent gave a short bow. “Thank you, my lady.” He then walked into the room, with his head held high. Xavier must not know that he had been worried by what had happened.

Xavier, a short old man, with a long gray beard and even longer gray hair was standing looking out a window. He showed no acknowledgement when Vincent entered the room. He waited for Vincent to acknowledge him.

“Sire,” Vincent started. “I apologize for my failure to destroy Zarine, and I humbly beg your forgiveness.”

Xavier turned around. “Vincent, there is nothing to be forgiven. Your plan was risky. Besides, it gives me a chance to try something.”

“Really?” Vincent said.

“I want to lure Zarine here,” Xavier said.

Vincent was perplexed. Zarine would never willingly come here. He was about to say so, but Xavier didn’t give him a chance.

“I know what you must be thinking,” Xavier said. “But, let me finish.”

Vincent nodded and Xavier went on with his plan. “I know that Zarine would never come here unless she thought she absolutely had to. Maybe not even then,” he said thoughtfully. “But, anyways, would Zarine come if she thought her brother was in danger?”

Vincent’s eyes were wide, and he started laughing. “Yes, she would. The little fool!” He stopped laughing as a thought occurred to him. “But how will she get here? She doesn’t know any ways to get here.”

Looking proud of himself, Xavier said, “I want you to find her and give her this.” He held out a small clear crystal. “This will open a portal that she will be able to come through. Just make sure you tell her how to use it.”

Vincent bowed. “Yes sir, I will get on it right away.”

* * *

Amy sat on her bed, wearing an oversized t-shirt for a nightgown. A first-aid kit was open in front of her. After a few minutes of searching, she found a bandage large enough to cover the area on her arm that had been hurt earlier. It had begun to bleed when she had taken her shower. When she was finished, she put the kit in the bottom drawer of her nightstand.

Amy pulled back the covers of her bed and climbed in. She yawned, and then said to herself: “I’m so tired. I hope I wake up on time tomorrow.” She set the alarm clock for 6:00, and shut off the lamp that was sitting on the nightstand. In a few minutes, Amy was asleep.

* * *

Donovan entered Laysan and looked around. As far as he could tell, no one was there. He had been chosen to congratulate Zarine for her victory over the Shadow. Donovan waited a few minutes before he began calling. “Zarine,” he shouted.

He didn’t have to wait long. A few moments later, a very distraught young girl appeared before him. “I don’t care who you are, you are about to get a piece of my mind. I have to wake up in a few hours!” Zarine shouted.

“Nice way to greet the person who saved your life,” Donovan commented calmly.

Zarine studied him critically. “That means you are a High Council member. I guess I should be bowing right now.”

Donovan rushed forward and caught Zarine’s shoulders before she could go down on her knee. “Formalities waste time we don’t have.” Zarine took a few steps away from him.

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“The High Council sent me to congratulate you on your defeat of the Shadow, but I have come to warn you,” Donovan said solemnly.

“Why do you have to warn me?” Zarine asked.

“I think the Dark is planning something major, and I think it centers around you,” Donovan answered.

“What makes you think that they are going to do something to me?” Zarine asked cautiously.

“They have tried to kill you many times before, and one of those attempts happened today.” Donovan answered.

“Oh,” Zarine said softly. “Thank you for the warning, but I really do have to go. I need to wake up soon.”

Donovan nodded. Zarine disappeared, and he was alone. There was one more person he needed to talk to. He called softly so that only she would hear.

Lilith appeared in a few seconds. For the longest time, Lilith had been a spy for Donovan. None of the other High Council members knew about Donovan’s affiliation with her. They had met when one of Donovan’s trips had taken him to the Dark. He had been captured by Vincent, and put into a dungeon where he had stayed for many days while Vincent and Xavier decided how to deal with him.

When Xavier delivered Donovan’s death sentence to him in person, he brought Lilith with him so that she could see the captured High Council member of the Order of Zarai. Xavier announced that Donovan was to be executed in the morning, and then left with Lilith at his side.

That night, Lilith came and set him free. She showed him how to escape, and since then, she has helped him whenever she could.

Now, Donovan called to her once again to enlist her help. “Lilith, thank goodness you could make it. I feel that something horrible is going to happen. Has Vincent made any plans to attack Zarine?”

“A hello would be nice,” Lilith commented.

Donovan smiled. “Hello Lilith. Now, will you answer my question?”

“You’re right. Something bad is going to happen. I think it will be in the next day or so. When I was eavesdropping on Xavier and Vincent, I heard them mention Darian, so it is quite possible that Zarine will be involved.” Lilith said.

Donovan groaned. “Darian. Now there is a problem I did not want to worry about right now. How is he doing?”

“There’s not much I can say there,” Lilith said apologetically. “He and Vincent fight constantly, and I still can’t be sure what side he’s on, but I guess we’ll know soon.”

Donovan wanted to ask more questions, but Lilith had been here longer than she could safely be away from the Dark. If Xavier became suspicious, he would be able to trace her whereabouts to Laysan, and then he might be able to trace everything farther, even to the Order of Zarai.

“Lilith, I thank you for your help, but I think we both need to leave.”

“Goodbye Donovan.”

* * *

Darian stared out a window into the land of the Dark. It was a barren wasteland, full of death and decay. His thoughts wandered to the confrontation earlier with Vincent and his bitter words. I just sent your sister her death. Not that you would care after the way you left her to die before. But Amy had survived.

It’s so like her to do something impossible. She always does what she shouldn’t be able to do when the odds are against her, Darian thought.

Vincent had been furious of course. No matter what he did to try and kill her, she was always one step ahead of him. Vincent’s mood had changed dramatically after his meeting with Xavier. He had seemed joyful like a child on Christmas Eve.

She’s going to need me, Darian thought. No Fighter, not even Zarine, can survive long without their Protector. I’m so confused. Nothing’s simple anymore. I thought I would be happy here, but I’m not. I miss Amy and Mom. I think I know what you meant when you said you wanted to be normal. I agree now. I would give anything to be normal again.

* * *

The sun shone brightly the next morning. Anne, Brian, and Jordan were once again walking to school in silence. When they neared Amy’s house, they saw her coming out of her house. They stopped and waited for her, and then the four of them walked on in silence.

Finally, Amy spoke. “I’m sorry about yesterday,” she said. “I should have stayed and explained things.”

“You were in a lot of pain,” Jordan said. “I wouldn’t have stayed around to explain either.”

“It was just a scratch, I had no right to be rude,” Amy said.

“But at least you’re all right,” Brian said.

No one said anything for a while, but once again it was Amy who spoke first.

“You’re going to have to be patient with me,” Amy said softly.

“What do you mean?” Anne asked suspiciously.

“Well, I’ve never worked in a group environment. I’m used to just going off on my own,” Amy answered.

“So you’ve decided you’re ready to fight again?” Jordan asked,

“No, I know I’m not ready. Look at what happened yesterday. That’s one of the few times I have been hurt in battle. No, I’m not ready by a long shot, but once again the choice has been made for me,” Amy said fiercely.

After that, no one wanted to say anything so it was a good thing they had already arrived at the school. The group wandered off to their appointed places after saying goodbye.

* * *

Jordan sat in homeroom thinking. Zarine had been found but he was still uneasy. He wasn’t sure if it was the vast amount of power she could control, or her attitude about being a Fighter. She clearly did not like what she was doing. Probably hated it. So why was she staying? Then Jordan remembered what Amy had said; Once again the choice has been made for me. Was someone forcing her to retain her position as a Fighter for the Order of Zarai?

Jordan forced all of the questions out of his head. He needed to ask Amy these questions. She might not answer any of them, but there was a chance she would. The bell rang for the first period, and Jordan walked into history lost in thought.

Everyone was there when he arrived, and it was time for class to begin so he did not get a chance to talk to anyone. Mrs. Laten began droning on about exploration, so Jordan used the time to write Amy a note. When he was done, he looked it over to see if it said what needed to be said, before folding it. Mrs. Laten’s back was to the class, so he whispered Amy’s name loud enough so she could hear and passed her the note

Amy discreetly unfolded it and began reading,

Amy, Zarine, whoever you are, we need to talk. Some of the things you have said and done have sparked questions in my mind. Being a Seeker, I cannot ignore them. When you are ready, come to me.

Jordan

Amy re-read the note several times. I used to be good at hiding things she thought. Amy folded the note back up and wrote her own message on it. She placed it on her desk, and used magic to make it appear on Jordan’s desk.

Jordan was startled when the note appeared on his desk. Why didn’t we think of that? He thought. He turned it over and read what Amy had written.

The Tower. After School.
Amy

Jordan had to suppress a smile. She certainly doesn’t like waiting. He thought.

* * *

Amy felt nervous all day about her upcoming meeting with Jordan. She wondered what sort of questions he would ask her. Seekers had a way of finding out even the things that you didn’t want anyone to know, or that you wanted to forget. And there was a lot she wanted to forget.

When the last bell of the day rang, Amy hurried to the tower. For some reason she wanted to be there before Jordan. She wasn’t sure why. She discreetly opened the door and entered. She climbed the stairs and was shocked to find a Sensor. Most places did not have one of these even thought all members of the Order of Zarai were instructed in their use. Amy passed her hand over the crystal, and it glowed brightly. When Amy entered the room, she was even more shocked then when she had seen the Sensor. Not only did this group have a meeting table, they had a Communicator.

Amy felt a sudden urge to talk to Donovan. She walked over to the table, placed her hand on the Crystal, and said his name. A second later, his image appeared before her. He looked relieved when he saw her.

“Hello Zarine, do you need anything?” he said.

“Donovan, I was thinking about your warning. Can you give me any information at all?” she asked.

Donovan hesitated. “It’s going to happen soon, maybe tomorrow. I think Darian might be involved.” When he saw her shocked face, he added. “I’m not sure, though. Just keep your eyes open, and your guard up. Something tells me that this is going to be serious. Good Luck.” Donovan then disappeared.

Someone cleared his or her throat behind her. Amy turned around to see Jordan. She hadn’t even heard him enter the room. “Hi,” was all she could think of to say.

“Hi,” Jordan said. “I’m sorry about this,” he began.

“Don’t be,” Amy said. “It’s not right for me to hide my past. Ask away.”

Jordan went and sat at his seat at the table, and motioned for Amy to do the same. I might as well start he thought.

“Why are you called Zarine?” he asked.

“When I became a Fighter, everything was done to protect me from the Dark. One of their methods was to give me an alias,” Amy answered.

“What was the warning you and Donovan were talking about?” Jordan said.

“I was told the Dark was going to attack me soon.” Amy said.

“Who’s Darian,” Jordan asked slowly.

This was the question Amy had been dreading. She tried to show no distress when answering. “Darian is my brother, and was my Protector. He deserted me in a battle after I was seriously wounded to go to the Dark.”

Jordan felt horrible for asking that question. “Amy I’m so sorry. I didn’t know.”

Amy forced herself to smile. “I’m all right—Really.”

“Just one more question,” he said. “Earlier, you said that a choice had been made for you. What did you mean by that?”

“Ever since I was told about the Order of Zarai, and the role Fighters played in it, I knew I could not be a Fighter. When they did the tests to see what type of skills I had, they found that I had a great potential for Fighting. I was not a violent person at the time, and was very squeamish, but everyone kept insisting that I was a Fighter. Since then, I have been told what to do, one way or another.”

Jordan was silent. Nothing could have prepared him for her answer. He rose out of his chair and said. “Thank you Amy. I think it’s time for us to go home.”

* * *

Amy waved at Jordan when he entered his house, and began walking again. She walked a few steps, but had to stop because she could sense a portal opening directly in front of her. The air shimmered, and Vincent stepped out.

Amy shifted into a fighting stance, but Vincent said: “Stop. I didn’t come here to fight you.”

“Then why did you come?” Amy asked, sounding perplexed.

“I came to tell you something,” Vincent said, and then paused as if waiting for a reaction. When he did not receive one, he continued, “Your brother Darian is scheduled to be executed tomorrow night.”

Amy felt as is her world had been turned upside down. She felt the blood rush out of her face, and her legs began to shake.

“No need to get emotional,” Vincent said. “Now that you know, you can go save him.”

“Vincent, you forget. I can’t enter the Dark, no Fighter can.”

Vincent had to hide a smile. This was too easy. “I didn’t forget. I brought you something that will allow you to come to my homeland,” he said, showing her the crystal.

“What’s that?” Amy asked, intrigued in spite of herself.

“This crystal will allow you to open a portal. I trust you know how to use it,” Vincent said as he tossed it to her. Amy caught it and studied her intently. “Vincent…” she began. But when she looked in front of her, he was no longer there.

* * *

Jordan saw the whole scene from the inside of his house. He was shocked. He felt instant regret for the one question he had forgotten to ask; the question of which side she was on. He thought the answer would be obvious. Would Amy go to the Dark like her brother had?

Feeling the sudden urge to talk to someone, Jordan moved away from the window, and walked unsteadily into the next room, the kitchen. He sat down at the table with the telephone. He dialed Anne’s number and waited impatiently for her to pick up. On the third ring, she answered.

“Hello,” Anne said.

“Hi Anne, it’s me Jordan,” he said.

Anne’s voice brightened. “Oh, hi Jordan. What’s up?”

Jordan sighed. “We’ve got trouble. Not only is she crazy, she doesn’t have a Protector because he deserted her for the Dark, I just saw her talking to Vincent, and I have no idea what side she is on.”

Anne was silent. After a few moments, Jordan wasn’t sure she was still there.

“Anne are you there?”

“Yeah,” she sighed.

Jordan knew that tone of voice well. Something was bothering Anne. “Anne, are you okay?” Jordan asked gently.

“You never rushed to save me like that,” she answered softly.

Jordan was shocked. Was Anne jealous? No, he decided. Anne was defiantly above jealousy. So what was wrong? “I don’t have to come to your rescue because I know you can take care of yourself.”

“But she’s a Fighter. She’s supposed to know how to take care of herself!”

“But I didn’t know she could.”

Anne was silent.

Jordan decided to take a different approach. “Anne, I’m sorry. I’ll make it up to you. I promise.”

“Okay,” Anne said. “So what are we going to do about Amy?”

“Right now, I just think everyone should know. We can’t do anything until we’re sure. So I’ll call Anthony and Eric if you call Brian.”

Anne laughed. “I think Brian should call Eric.”

Jordan grinned. “Sounds good to me!” Anne and Jordan hung up and began calling the people they needed to call.

* * *

Anne dialed Brian’s number. It rang and rang, but no one answered. After five rings, the answering machine picked up. “Hi Brian, this is Anne. I need to tell you something, so if it is not too late when you get back, give me a call. Bye.”

Anne held the phone in her hand, and it suddenly hit her. “Oh no! Now I have to call Eric!” She dialed his number, and waited while it rang, and hoped no one would answer. On the fourth ring, a woman answered.

“Hello.”

“Hello, may I speak to Eric?” Anne asked.

“One moment please. May I ask who is calling?”

“Anne,” she answered, and then waited for Eric to pick up the phone. She didn’t have to wait long. A few minutes later he answered.

“Hey Anne, what’s wrong. You guys never call me unless something is going on.”

“Hi Eric. You’re right, something is wrong. Jordan saw Amy talking to Vincent, and now he’s not sure what side she is on anymore. Something is going to happen soon, so just be ready.”

“Okay, thanks for calling me Anne. I’ll talk to you, Jordan, and Brian tomorrow to see if anything has come up.”

“That sounds good to me. Bye”

“Bye”

After Anne got off the phone with Eric, she had no choice but to face her thoughts. The Order of Zarai had ruled her life for a few years now, but it had never been as dangerous as it was hinting at now. Everyone had always been told about Vincent and how evil and cruel he was, but they had never thought that anything they would do would involve him. Out of the five of them, Jordan was the only one of them that would have to worry about attracting Vincent’s attention simplybecause he was a Seeker.

Jordan. Anne sighed. It seemed like forever ago they had been very close, almost inseparable. But then they had begun to grow apart. . Anne knew that the Order of Zarai was responsible, but she had always had hope that one day they would be close again. And now Amy was here, and all Jordan had talked about the last two days was her. What chance do I have against someone like her anyways? Anne thought as a tear rolled down her cheek.

* * *

When Anthony arrived home from school, he was surprised to find that his brother Robert was there; Robert was on the High Council. He was a little taller than Anthony, but other than that, many people had mistaken them for twins even though Robert was the elder by two years. Anthony couldn’t help feeling suspicious as to why his brother was here. He hardly ever came for a brotherly chat; it was always the Order of Zarai all the time.

Anthony got out of his small two-door car and walked up the steps to the porch of his light blue one level rancher. Robert had been sitting on a chair on the porch, but had stood up when Anthony’s car pulled into the driveway. As Anthony unlocked the door, he said, “Hello Robert.”

“Hello Anthony.”

“I wonder who that could be?” Anthony mused as he went to the other end of the room to pick it up. “Hello,” he said.

“Hi Anthony, it’s Jordan. We have problems.”

“Again?” Anthony asked.

“Yes, and this time it’s even worse than when the Shadow came. Did Amy ever say what side she was on?” Jordan asked.

“No.” Anthony answered. “Why?”

“I saw her talking to Vincent.”

“Are you sure it was Vincent?” Anthony asked.

“None of us have ever seen him, but I’ve heard enough descriptions.” Jordan said. As an afterthought he added, “I think he have her something.”

Anthony sighed. Why couldn’t things be simple? “Okay, the only thing we can do is wait. I’ll talk to her tomorrow morning.”

“Anthony, everything’s going to be okay, right?”

“It’s going to take a while, but yes, I do think everything will be okay.”

“Thanks Anthony. See you tomorrow, bye,” Jordan said as he hung up the phone.

Anthony hung up the phone, walked to the table. When he sat down, he put his head in his hands.

“Is anything wrong Anthony?” Robert asked.

“Oh, it’s nothing too serious. We’re just trying to get a new Fighter set into the routine.”

“Anthony, you know it’s not true. I heard Vincent’s name.”

Anthony lifted his head. This was going too far. He didn’t want to get the High Council involved, and he knew Robert would tell, and then it would be out of his hands. But if he didn’t tell and something happened, then he would never forgive himself. His first duty as a Leader was to protect his group, and all the people who were unaware of the Order of Zarai. He could not allow his sympathy for Amy to get in the way of that duty.

So Anthony proceeded to tell his brother of Amy, what little he knew about her brother, and the fight with the Shadow the day before. He also spoke of Jordan’s phone call and his fear that Amy might not be on their side. Robert was especially interested to hear that Vincent had been seen talking with Amy.

When Anthony was done, Robert leaned back in his chair thoughtfully. “The oddest thing about this is that Vincent could be bothered to go and talk to a Fighter. I always thought he would consider something like that to be beneath him. Another problem, is if he gave her something, what does it do?” Robert mused aloud. He leaned forward in his chair. “Anthony, who is she?”

Anthony shifted uncomfortably. “I’d rather not say now incase we’re not right.” A thought suddenly occurred to him. Vincent wouldn’t consider it beneath him to talk to Zarine. Zarine was the best Fighter around, and a threat to the Dark. He would try to get her to change sides before he killed her. Which means, that if we get to her first we have a better idea of what her answer will be.

Anthony then changed the subject, and for the rest of the night they talked about how their lives were going and got caught up on family gossip.

Amy sat at the kitchen counter staring at the crystal Vincent had given her. The toaster was in front of her and she was waiting for her toast to pop up. Her mother had left a note saying that she had gone to her work to get everything ready for when she did start, and would probably be back late. That was fine with Amy because she had a lot to think about. Everything Vincent had told her worried her, especially what he had said about Darian. Was he telling the truth? Could she even take the chance that he wasn’t?

The toast popped up, breaking into her thoughts. Amy buttered it and ate continuing to think. She could talk to Donovan, but wouldn’t he have told her if he had known? There was also Anthony, but he knew less than Donovan did. A thought occurred to her. What about the group? No Amy reasoned, that would be foolish. I don’t know then well enough to trust them with this information.

If Darian were here I would talk to him, Amy thought. But if Darian was here you wouldn’t be having this problem a voice in the back of her head answered. Amy sighed and continued to stuffy the crystal.

* * *

Lilith crept silently through the corridors. She really didn’t have to; these hallways were rarely used. The lights were dim, and would disappear altogether soon. The whole castle was magically lit, and Xavier saved on magical energy by only lighting the parts of the castle that were useful. She turned a corner, and saw darkness halfway down the hallway. A flame of fire appeared in Lilith’s upturned palm that gave her enough light to see a few footsteps in front of her.

At the end of the hallway was a door that Lilith knew was locked. She placed her hand on the lock hoping it would recognize her as Xavier’s daughter and allow her access like all the other doors. Luckily it did. Lilith stepped inside and placed her flame in a candle sconce by the door. She willed the rest of them to light, and the room became as light as day.

This room held all the confiscated weapons from the Order of Zarai, and was strictly forbidden to everyone. If either Vincent or Xavier found her here, they would kill her no matter who she was. Which is why I have to be quick Lilith thought. There were weapons of all types, ranging from daggers to bows and arrows to swords.

Lilith was looking for two things, a sword that had been used by the last great Fighter of Zarai over a hundred years ago, and a crystal necklace. The sword she found in a corner. It was only a hilt because the Fighter magically supplied the blade. The hilt was very plain. The only decoration it had was a spot in which there was an indentation; the crystal would go there, and it would serve to make the sword stronger.

No matter how much Lilith searched, the crystal was nowhere to be found. She eventually had to give up searching because the longer she stayed the more danger she was to getting caught. She left as silently and quickly as she had come, the sword hidden in the pocket of her dress.

She turned the corner of the darkened hallway and came face to face with Vincent. Lilith gasped and took a step backwards. Her first impulse was to run, but she tried to remain calm. If I act normal, he won’t be suspicious, but if I give him something to worry about… she thought.

“Hello Vincent,” Lilith said haughtily.

Vincent laughed cruelly when he answered her. “Oh Lilith, you’re not a very good actress.”

Lilith felt her anger rise. “The last time I checked, hatred for you came naturally."

Anger flashed on Vincent’s face. He grabbed Lilith’s arms, shoved her hard against the wall and held her there. When he spoke his voice was a throaty whisper. “I know where you went Lilith, and I know what you went for. Nothing you can do will save her or her brother. If you interfere, I will have your life. Remember that.”

Vincent removed his hand from her arms and walked away. Lilith leaned against the wall, rubbing her arms where Vincent had held them. Her heart was beating fast, and her breathing abnormal.

“Are you okay?” an unfamiliar voice asked.

Lilith looked up. “Darian…” she stuttered. “I’m fine, thank you.” She backed away from him and walked quickly back to her rooms. She barely noticed anything going on in the castle; she was too frightened. When she got back to her rooms, she locked the door and sat down at one of the tables to catch her breath and wait.

Tonight was the night before Vincent used his threat to kill Darian to lure Zarine here. Lilith had decided to use her quickly disappearing time before then to save both Zarine and her brother. The sword would give Zarine a chance; the crystal and the sword would have assured her victory.

Darian was an entirely different story. Lilith was almost sure that he was on Zarine’s side, but there was still a chance that his allegiance was to Xavier. There was also the problem would Zarine trust Darian again. There was one more problem that might throw the whole plan off. Zarine had been fighting without a Protector for a long time. The Order of Zarai was not aware of what this could do to a Fighter because no Protector had ever deserted a Fighter before. The longer a Fighter fights without a Protector, the worse their fighting skills became. Eventually, when the Fighter goes to use their magic, they will be causing themselves damage that will kill them. Protectors not only protect their Fighters, but also keep their magic in balance. Zarine had not shown any symptoms, but it was only a matter of time now. Even Zarine could not avoid this, and it would eventually kill her unless Darian began protecting her again.

When Lilith noticed it was dark outside, she went to her wardrobe and pulled out an emerald green hooded cloak. She made sure her face was covered before she opened a door to Laysan. She stepped through and took a moment to adjust the hood before calling Zarine.

Almost immediately, Zarine appeared in a fighting stance.

“You have nothing to fear, Fighter of the Order of Zarai. I mean you no harm.”

Zarine relaxed slightly. “Who are you?”

“I am your friend and ally. I know of your danger, and bring you the key to surviving it.” Lilith held out the sword, and Zarine cautiously took it.

Zarine stared at it, amazed. “It’s a magic sword… These are rare; you shouldn’t be giving this to me.”

Lilith held up her hand to silence Zarine. “I am giving this to you because it is your only hope for rescuing your brother. Be warned, though. A piece is missing and the sword will not be at its full strength without it. Be careful.” Lilith then disappeared. For now her job was done.

“I don’t know who you are,” Zarine whispered. “But thank you.”

* * *

The next morning started cloudy and rainy. Anne, Brian, and Jordan ran to school to avoid getting wet. Amy walked slowly, thinking. The crystal was on a chain around her neck, and the sword was in her pocket. By the time she got to school, she was soaked, but she didn’t care. Tonight she had to go to the Dark and rescue Darian. When she got to homeroom, she was told that Mr. Candell wanted to see her. She went to the main office, and was told to go straight to his office. After thanking the Secretary, Amy opened the door and walked in.

“Hello Anthony. What’s –“ Amy stopped talking when she noticed Robert. What was a High Council member doing here?

Anthony saw her shock, and was suddenly angry with himself for allowing Robert to come. “Zarine, it’s okay. He’s not here to hurt you. I want you to meet my brother Robert.”

Robert regarded her calmly. This petite girl was Zarai’s best Fighter, the one who had killed a Shadow? She was nothing but a child, not old enough to posses the power she had. He waited for her to bow, but she did not. Many members of Zarai forgot to bow, but they usually corrected their mistake before long. Zarine did not move. Inwardly, Robert sighed. Outwardly, he showed no emotion. He motioned for Zarine to sit in the chair in front of Anthony’s desk. He waited until she was seated before he began talking.

“Zarine, I’m sorry about your brother. As soon as I get back, I will make every effort to return him to you. I would also like to congratulate you on your victory over the Shadow. You did an excellent job.”

Amy was shocked. It wasn’t every day a High Council member complimented someone on his or her duties. Unless that High Council member was Donovan, of course.

“Thank you,” she said.

Anthony thought the atmosphere in the room was quickly moving toward hostile. Amy clearly did not trust his brother. He wasn’t even sure he trusted Robert not to do anything. Robert had been clearly upset when Amy had not bowed to him, even though he had tried to hide it. They were both looking each other up and down, as if measuring how the other would do in a fight. Anthony almost had to smile at the thought. Robert wouldn’t stand a chance in a fight against her.

Tired of the silence, Anthony spoke. “If the two of you want to go ahead and fight, you can use the storage room back there.”

“What?!” they exclaimed together.

The meaning of what Anthony said was suddenly clear to Robert. “I’m sorry Zarine, I didn’t mean to make you feel as if you were in danger.” Robert said apologetically.

“Wow, a pat on the back and an apology. Mark this day on the calendar,” Amy murmured.

“What? I missed that.” Robert said. Anthony, who had heard, was smiling.

Amy stood up. “I was just saying ‘look at the time.’ I think I should be back to class.” She left before anyone could say anything.

“So that was Zarine,” Robert said. “She sure is something.”

“Not really,” Anthony said. “She’s really a lot of trouble. I haven’t had a full night’s sleep since she’s been here.”

* * *

During lunch, Anne, Brian, and Jordan sat together. Amy was nowhere to be seen.

“Does anyone know where she is?” Jordan asked.

“I think she said something about going to the library,” Brian answered.

After they were done eating, they went outside into the courtyard. “I’m so glad it stopped raining so the sun could come out!” Anne exclaimed.

“Yeah, this morning was really depressing. I hate the rain!” Jordan agreed.

“What’s that light in the tower?” Brian asked. Anne and Jordan turned around. Bright light was streaming out of the windows.

Anne, who was a Seer, could see what was happening inside the tower, whereas Brian and Jordan could not. “Oh No!” she exclaimed.

“What’s happening?” Brian and Jordan said in unison.

“Amy’s opening a portal to the Dark. We’ve got to get to Anthony quick.”

“All right,” Jordan said, taking charge. “The two of you go to the tower. Try to stall Amy. I’ll go get Anthony.”

Anne and Brian started at a dead run toward the tower. “Don’t forget Eric,” Brian shouted.

Jordan ran through the hallways invisible. He ran through Anthony’s door without any thought. He didn’t even give a warning when he reappeared. “Anthony, we have trouble. Amy’s opening a portal to the Dark.” In his haste, he hadn’t noticed Robert and had used Zarine’s real name.

Anthony looked startled and thoughtful. “Robert, go with Jordan to the Tower. I’ll go get Eric.” Everyone nodded their agreement, and went where they had to go.

* * *

Anne and Brian raced up the steps. “Amy, stop!” Anne yelled. They reached the top of the stairs just in time to see Amy step through. “We’re too late,” Anne whispered.

The portal was beginning to close until it reached about an inch in size, then it solidified and dropped to the ground with a crystalline ‘chink.’ Anne and Brian gave each other troubled looks and walked over to the spot. It turned out to be a crystal on a silver chain. Anne picked it up and began to study it. “This must be what she used to open that portal. I wonder why it didn’t go through with her.”

At that moment, Jordan, Robert, Anthony, and Eric showed up. “She’s gone,” Brian said needlessly.

“What are we going to do now?” Jordan asked.

“Well, we’re going to have to go find her. I don’t care who she is, she won’t survive long there,” Anthony said. The group nodded in agreement.

“Wait a minute,” Robert interrupted. “As long as I’m here, any trips have to be approved by the rest of the High Council. You can’t go traipsing off for one person.”

“But getting the High Council’s approval will take forever,” Eric complained.

“We do have a Communicator,” Brian pointed out to no one in particular.

“I’ll go use it so this whole thing can be resolved as soon as possible,” Robert said.

* * *

Amy had heard Anne yell at her to stop, but she was too far in opening the portal to close it. Closing it before opening it all the way would be even more dangerous than going through it. Before she stepped through, she picked up her bag and walked forward into the portal. As she passed between the two worlds, Amy lost her grip on the crystal, and when she reached the Dark, she no longer had it with her.

“I’ll just have to find some other way back,” Amy said out loud to comfort herself. She then took a good look at her surroundings. She had appeared on the edge of a forest. If it can even be called a forest. Amy thought. It’s more dead than alive. Everything in the area was just as dead as the forest. The grass was brown, and there were no shrubs. The trees had no leaves and their round trunks were huge. They also looked like they would topple over with the slightest wind.

Amy shivered as a breeze went by her. That was when she remembered she still had on her school uniform, and that she had brought a change of clothes with her. She stepped behind one of the trees and quickly changed into a pair of black stretch pants and a black tank top. The sword was in a sheath around her waist. Her silver locket stood out against the black, and Amy touched it once for reassurance. This would all be over soon.

Amy picked up her bag, and tried to decide which way to go. Off in the distance, she could see a very large building that looked like a castle. That’s where Darian is Amy thought. A further surveyance of the land revealed a road she had not noticed before. It seemed to lead all the way to the castle. Having no other option, Amy picked up her bag and began walking.

* * *

Anne, Brian, Jordan, and Eric were waiting impatiently for Robert to get permission for them to go rescue Amy. Anne and Brian were sitting on the stairs, and Eric was draped over the railing. Jordan was pacing in front of the stairs. Anthony was leaning on the wall, giving both Robert and his group troubled looks. To have something to do, he began briefing his team.

“Eric, have you been working on making a sword?”

“Yes.”

“Demonstrate it for me.”

Eric concentrated on calling the magic he would need. A sword began to appear in his hand. Instead of the silvery light that Zarine’s was, Eric’s was golden in color. Anthony looked pleased, and even Anne, Brian, and Jordan had to admit that he had done very well.

“Very good, Eric,” Anthony said. “Now make it disappear.”

Eric made the sword vanish as though it had never been there. He would definitely be able to hold his own in a fight if they ran into a dangerous situation.

“Anthony,” Anne said suddenly. “What about the rest of us? Should we bring weapons too?”

Anthony took a moment to think before answering. “Yes, I guess you should. I would rather that you were prepared and you didn’t have to fight than if it was the other way around.”

Anne, Brian, and Jordan walked over to a cabinet in the corner of the room. Inside was an assortment of weapons. Anne took a staff of rowan wood, and Brian and Jordan each took swords and belts to go with them.

As they walked back to Anthony, Robert came over from the table. He raised an eyebrow at their weapons but didn’t say anything. “The High Council approves your mission as long as you can find a way to get into the Dark,” he said.

Everyone felt their hopes fall. “That’s impossible,” Eric said. “No one from the Order of Zarai is allowed to enter the Dark.”

“Zarine found a way, so it’s not impossible,” Jordan reasoned.

Anne and Brian looked at each other. Suddenly, Anne’s eye widened. “The crystal!” she exclaimed.

Everyone gave her blank stares.

“When Amy’s portal closed, it became this crystal. We should be able to do the same thing she did, except we have to make sure the crystal comes with us.” Amy was not happy. So far this had not been a good trip. She was tired and the Castle was a long way off. The road was in the middle of a huge field, and there was no place to hide. She stopped for a moment to adjust her bag and then continued on her journey.

After a few minutes, Amy noticed a house in the distance. She half considered abandoning the road but decided against it. There was no reason to hide herself from any inhabitants of the Dark. Vincent knew she was coming.

As she came closer to the house, Amy noticed there was a man outside. He wore very drab clothing that almost blended in with the dirt on the road. His dark brown hair was short, and his eyes were such a light brown that they were almost golden. His eyes followed Amy as she walked by. When he spoke, his voice was surprisingly gentle. “We don’t get many travelers here. Where are you heading?”

Amy stopped and considered what her answer would be. “I’m not a traveler. I’m just taking a walk.”

He laughed softly. “No one just takes a walk on this road. This road leads to the Castle… to Death.”

“Perhaps that’s what I’m looking for,” Amy said.

He took a step toward the road. Amy took a step backwards, and her hand began to glow silver. One step closer and this person, whoever he was would cease to exist. He looked startled and came no closer.

“I mean you no harm. I’m just wondering why someone as young as you looks for death.”

Amy felt herself falling into a trap. Darien needed her, and she was wasting time. She thought about Vincent and shuddered. “Death and I have unfinished business,” Amy said coolly. She started walking away, and once she was past the house, she began running, a new sense of urgency pushing her along.

The man shook his head in sadness. Many Zarai Fighters had come this way, and none of them ever returned. This girl would be just another to add to that list. She was too young to die he thought. He walked into the house and tried to forget the image of another Fighter.

* * *

Anne, Brian, Eric, and Jordan walked out of the portal closer to the Castle than Amy had been. To their relief, the crystal was with them. They had appeared somewhat closer to the Castle than Amy had, but they were still far away.

“We should start heading in the direction of the Castle,” Jordan said.

Anne fastened the chain around her neck. The group started walking, with no conversation. Each of them knew they could be walking into a trap. Amy could have been on the side of the Dark the whole time they had known her. They hoped that wasn’t the truth, but they knew that life hardly ever went the way you hoped it would.

As they neared the house Amy had passed a short while ago, they saw a distant figure move into the middle of the road. Everyone stopped and looked at each other.

As Jordan and Brian took their swords out of their sheaths, Brian asked, “Should I put a shield around us?”

“Jordan answered before anyone else could. “No, it’s only one person. You shouldn’t waste your energy. You might need it for whatever is at the castle.”

This said, they started off again. It wasn’t long before they were in sight of the person.

“This must be my lucky day. You’re the second group of travelers I’ve seen today.”

Brian motioned for the others to stop. “How long ago did the other traveler go by?”

The man’s face darkened. “You don’t really expect me to answer that while you’re waving that sword around, do you? If you want me to answer you, you’ll have to put it away.”

Anne studied the man. Using her second sight, she could see nothing about him that would endanger them. She handed her staff to Jordan. “Brian, it’s okay. You can put your sword away.” He gave her a confused look, but did as she said. Anne stepped forward and stood directly in front of the man.

Anne was startled by his identification of her, but tried to sound confident when she spoke. “Please, we need your help. A friend of ours may have passed through here. We have to find her before it’s too late. She may be in danger, even now.”

“The Fighter you speak of went by only a short while ago. She is headed for the Castle. But I have to warn you. She is looking for Death, and won’t appreciate your meddling.

“Vincent,” Jordan said grimly.

“We have to hurry before she does anything,” Eric said.

“Thank you,” Anne said as they began to run toward the castle.

The man watched them go. They were all just as young as the Fighter. Unlike the Fighter, though, they had no idea about what they were getting into. I have to know what happens to them he thought.

His body began to glow and change. The shape he chose was that of a falcon. The eyes were golden. He took to flight and followed the group.

* * *

From a window in one of the highest towers of the castle, Vincent could see almost everything that went on outside. He had watched Zarine from her arrival to the Dark and her journey to the castle. The only time he had felt any emotion was when Zarine had stopped to talk.

What is my son doing? He thought angrily. If Stephen manages to mess things up this time, I’ll do more than just banish him.

Stephen had been born twenty years ago to Vincent and his wife Selene. That was back when Vincent only fought against the Order of Zarai because Xavier asked him to. He completely adored his wife and son, and spent every free moment with them. The death of Selene during a battle with the Order of Zarai brought a hatred inside of him that ate away at the depths of his soul.

At the time, Stephen was ten years old, and Vincent tried to share his hatred with his son, but Stephen did not seem to share his father’s ideas. As he grew older, he began to rebel until finally Xavier and Vincent decided to banish him to the far reaches of the Dark.

There, Stephen met a group of people called the Idalians. They are a group of people who have mastered the art of shape shifting. By the time he was fourteen, Stephen had also mastered the art. He used his powers to alter his appearance so that he no longer looked like his father.

Using his new look, Stephen decided he would risk being caught and decided to travel throughout the Dark to find a place to live. He chose and abandoned house right on the only road to the castle. Stephen knew that his father was aware of him, and often wondered why Vincent never told Xavier.

Despite his close location to the castle, Stephen never tried to interfere with Xavier or Vincent. Until now, Vincent thought angrily.

He walked away from the window in deep thought and began preparing for Zarine’s arrival.

* * *

As Amy came closer to the castle, she slowed her pace so she could study it. A moat circled around it, and the only visible way in was across the drawbridge. Despite the drawbridge being the only entrance, there were only two guards. On one of the turrets, there were two shadows and three guards. On each of the five towers, there was one archer. No wonder there are only two guards at the entrance. Anyone who gets past them will have to deal with everything else, Amy thought.

She cast a spell of invisibility and snuck quietly past the guards on the bridge. After the bridge, there was a short tunnel that led into a courtyard. There were a number of doors and staircases, and at the far end there was one dark hallway.

Amy ran across the courtyard, not bothering to check for any traps. At this point, she really didn’t care. It was almost night, and Darien’s execution loomed dangerously close.

* * *

In the throne room, Vincent made sure everyone was there. Xavier sat on a throne of dark rose colored wood. Lilith and Darien stood to the left of the throne, Vincent to the right. Two Shadows stood next to Vincent. Three guards stood to either side of the doorway.

Darien shifted impatiently. “What are we waiting for?” he demanded.

Lilith couldn’t help feeling a sense of dread.

* * *

Anne, Jordan, Brian, and Eric watched Amy run across the drawbridge.

“There’s no way around it now,” Jordan said. “We’re going to have to use magic now.”

“I can make you and I invisible, and Brian can do himself and Eric,” Anne said.

“Sounds good, but we better hurry,” Eric said.

Anne and Brian closed their eyes, and concentrated on what they wanted. When they were sure they had everything right, they used magic. Anne saw stars in front of her eyes, and put her hand on Jordan’s shoulder to steady herself.

“Are you okay?” Jordan asked, a look of concern plastered on his face.

“I’m fine. Let’s go.” Anne said and started to walk forward.

Jordan, Brian, and Eric traded troubled glances. Anne may have reached her limit already. Opening the portal must have taken more out of her than she had let show.

“Keep an eye on her,” Jordan whispered to the others as they caught up with her.

* * *

Vincent heard footsteps in the hallway. “Here she comes,” he whispered to Xavier. When Amy entered the room, Xavier nodded to the guards, and pointing at Darien shouted, “Seize him!”

The guards rushed at Darien, and grabbed him. He tried to fight back, but they had caught him off guard, and pinned his arms behind his back before he could do anything that would have had an effect.

Laughing, Vincent pulled a sword out from behind Xavier’s throne. “Zarine, welcome. I hope you’ve enjoyed your little trip.” He began walking toward her.

Amy pulled out her sword, and the silvery blade appeared. “I should have known.”

Xavier stood up. “You didn’t think we would let you just walk in her, and then walk out with your brother, did you?”

Vincent walked closer. “I almost forgot. Let me introduce my leader, Xavier, ruler of all you see here. And standing next to him, is his daughter, Lilith.”

The two Shadows moved closer to Vincent and Amy. Darien knew that even his sister could not handle two Shadows. “Zarine get out of here now before it is too late!”

Amy turned at the sound of her brother’s voice. One of the Shadows chose this moment to attack.

A voice from the hallway yelled, “Zarine look out!”

Amy turned just in time to block the Shadow with her sword. The force of the blow knocked her to the floor. A golden object flew into the Shadow, and it exploded.

During the ensuing confusion, no one noticed the falcon fly in through a window. The golden eyes watched the events unfold below.

Brian, Anne, Jordan, and Eric came in. Jordan helped Amy up, and Eric went to retrieve his sword. Anne handed Amy the crystal.

“You don’t look happy to see us,” she commented.

“No. This is my fight.” Amy said angrily.

“Wrong,” Vincent said. “This is our fight.” A circle of fire went up around the two of them. Vincent pointed to Darien. “Release him.”

Darien began walking toward the fire. Vincent put his hand up. “Anyone who interferes from now on is subject to death at my hand!”

Darien stopped and glared at Vincent with deadly hatred. Lilith walked over to him, and whispered something in his ear.

“Remember what I said Lilith, nothing you can do will save either of them,” Vincent reminded her.

“So, daughter, you finally show me whose side you’re really on,” Xavier said.

“I’ve always shown whose side I was on. You were just too blind to see it,” Lilith said.

Xavier’s eyes narrowed. “I will deal with you later. Right now, I have more important things to take care of.” He looked at Vincent. “You may begin.”

Vincent wasted no time in attacking Amy. He swung his sword hard, and Amy tried to block it, but ended up dodging instead. Another hard swing knocked the sword out of her hand.

“You’re not so tough,” Vincent said as he advanced.

Amy dodged the sword and managed to kick Vincent in the small of the back. It seemed to have no effect, but it bought her a few a seconds to get away.

She caught a look at Darien as she dodged yet another swing from Vincent. His face held only hatred. For me, or Vincent? She thought.

Then, she felt the cold metal of Vincent’s sword slice into her arm. As she fell to the ground, she felt her hand land on the crystal, which she must have dropped earlier in the fight.

Vincent held the point of his sword against the back of Amy’s neck. “Zarine, turn around,” he ordered. “I want to see your face when you die.”

Amy turned around and felt her sword underneath her other hand. She felt surprisingly calm. There had to be some way out of this…

Anne buried her head into Jordan’s shoulder, and he put his arm around her. The cloth of his shirt was wet from her tears. “It can’t end like this,” she whispered.

As Vincent prepared to bring his sword down, Lilith shouted. “Zarine, use the crystal, it’s the missing piece to the sword!”

Somehow, Amy managed to get the crystal into the handle of the sword and block Vincent’s blow. The blade glowed brighter, and Amy’s arm began to heal. She got to her feet and began fighting back. For a while, Vincent blocked her every move, but then he began to tire. Eventually, he was no longer able to block Amy’s sword swings.

When she managed to knock his sword out of his hand he fell to his knees. “Finish it,” he pleaded. His eyes looked oddly at peace.

Amy held her sword out in front of her. “Lower the flames,” she said in a low voice. The flames disappeared. Steam rose from the ground, and the air smelled of brimstone. “Stay where you are,” she ordered.

The blade of the sword disappeared and Amy re-sheathed the hilt. She walked over to where Lilith and Darien were standing. “Thank you so much,” she said to Lilith.

“Your welcome, I’m only glad I could help in time.” She replied.

Amy turned to Darien. “Can you ever forgive me?” he asked.

“I already have,” Amy said as she gave her brother a hug.

The rest of the group walked over to them. “Good job,” Anne said.

“Thanks,” Amy said. “Is everyone here?” She put her hand around the crystal and prepared to do a transport spell. Anne’s magic intertwined with Amy’s to provide strength to the spell.

Xavier saw what they were doing and said. “You’re not going to get away that easily!” He began to form a large ball of fire and threw it at the group as their spell took effect. Darien, seeing that the fire was aimed at his sister, jumped in front of her as they disappeared.

* * *

Anthony walked over to her and kneeled down. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” she whispered in a shaky voice. “See to Anne.”

Anthony looked over at Anne. She was sitting in a chair, and was extremely pale. Robert was already over there doing a healing spell to relieve her exhaustion.

Robert looked over at Amy. “For being our best Fighter, you certainly don’t use any common sense. They could have been killed.”

“Robert…” Anthony warned.

Amy’s face darkened as she got up on her feet and walked over to Robert. “I’m sick and tired of all you High Council members judging me. I’m only sixteen, and you expect me to make adult decisions. I didn’t ask anyone to come. They knew the dangers when they decided to follow me!” She was almost shouting.

“She’s right,” Eric said. “All of us knew we would be in danger. You asked Anne several times if she knew.”

Anthony walked over to Amy. “Why don’t you go change your clothes, and I’ll take you home.” She nodded and walked down the stairs to a bathroom in the hallway.

Anthony turned to everyone else. “What happened?”

“She almost died,” Anne said in a choked up voice. Jordan put his hand on her shoulder.

“Vincent and Xavier set a trap to lure her there, using Darien as the bait. Amy and Vincent were fighting, and he cut her arm, and she dropped her sword.” Jordan said.

Brian continued. “Just as Vincent as about to bring his sword down, Lilith figured out that the crystal was the missing piece to her sword. I don’t know how Amy managed to block Vincent’s sword, but she did.”

“Then she began fighting back until she disarmed Vincent. He practically begged her to kill him, but she didn’t.” Eric said.

“Amy’s not that type of person,” Anthony said. “What happened after that?”

“We started a transport spell. Right before we left, Xavier threw a ball of fire at Amy. Darien jumped in front of her to protect her. And then we appeared here, and neither Lilith or Darien are here.” Anne finished.

“Who’s Lilith?” Robert inquired.

“She’s Xavier’s adopted daughter,” Amy answered as she walked up the stairs. She had an ace bandage wrapped around her arm.

“It hurts?” Anthony asked.

“The rest of you can stay here if you want. School lets out in about half an hour, so you don’t have to go back to class. I’m going to take Amy home,” Anthony said.

They walked down the stairs and out the side doors to Anthony’s car. Amy gave him directions to her house and then was silent.

“How are you going to explain your arm to your mother?” he asked.

“I guess I’ll tell her that I slipped and fell on a piece of glass,” she answered.

When Anthony pulled up to the curb in front of Amy’s house, she told him it would cause fewer questions if he didn’t walk up to the door. He nodded, but waited until she was inside the house before pulling away.

Amy walked into the house and yelled,” Mom, I’m home!”

Her mom walked into the hallway. She had her keys in her hand. “Good. Get in the car.”

“Why?” Amy asked, but followed her Mother outside.

“The hospital called. Someone brought in Darien.”

Amy stopped. “Mom, are you sure? It might not be him.”

Her Mother looked down at the ground. “I know it might not be him, but maybe this time it is. We’ll never know if we don’t go.”

The drive to the hospital was in silence. Each of them was lost in their own thoughts. What if it really is him? Amy thought. That would mean that he is alive.

A doctor met then at the door to Darien’s room. “It really is him,” Amy’s mother said, and then turned to the doctor. “Is he all right?”

“He’s unconscious, and hasn’t woken up yet. He also has some bad burns on his arms.”

“Can we go see him?” Amy asked.

“I don’t see why not?” the doctor answered.

Amy walked into the room, and pulled chair up to the bedside. Darien’s arms were bandaged, and an IV was in one of his hands. He was also hooked up to a respirator. Amy put her hand on his and just sat there.

The doctor talked quietly to Amy’s mother. “I still need you to fill out some forms, so if you’ll follow me…”

“Okay,” she said.

After Amy’s mother left, all of the emotions that had been building up all day overflowed. Tears fell freely, and Amy found herself talking to Darien, even though he couldn’t hear her. “You always do this to me. I’m stronger than you are. It wouldn’t have hurt me as bad as this.”

Hours went by, and Amy kept vigil at Darien’s side. Her mother came in every now and then to bring Amy food, or check on Darien’s condition.

Around 7:00, a nurse came in with some bandages and some first aid cream. “Let me take a look at your arm,” she said to Amy.

“It’s nothing serious,” Amy said.

“Serious or not,” the nurse said. “It should still be looked at.”

Amy reluctantly agreed, and allowed the nurse to remove the wrapping on her arm.

“That’s a nasty cut. How did you get it?”

“I fell on a piece of glass,” Amy said.

“I think we should be getting home,” her mother said.

Amy turned around in her chair. “Do you think I can stay? I want to be here when he wakes up”

“I don’t see why not as long as your mother thinks so,” the doctor said.

“If you want to, you can,” her mother said.

“Thank you,” Amy said. She didn’t even notice when they left because she had turned her attention back to Darien. A few hours later, without meaning to, Amy fell asleep.

* * *

“Zarine…”

Amy felt the familiar call to Laysan, and allowed herself to enter. Lilith was waiting for her.

“Hello Zarine,” she said.

“You’re alive! I had feared the worst,” Amy said.

“When you transported everyone out, Darien and I were separated from the group. I healed his injuries the best I could before bringing him to the hospital. Is he doing any better?”

Amy shook her head. “He still hasn’t woken up. I’m there with him now, waiting.”

“Then I will let you get back to him. Perhaps out paths will cross again in the future. Goodbye for now.”

* * *

Amy awoke to sunshine on her face. Darien’s condition was no better. She went down to the hospital cafeteria to get something to eat, and then went back to sit by Darien’s side. A short while later, her mother arrived.

“No change?” she asked.

“None,” Amy answered.

“I brought you some clothes. Go get changed. Nothing will happen while you are gone.”

Amy hurried and changed into a pair of jeans and a white t-shirt. When she came back, the doctor was leaving the room.

“Still no change,” he said.

Amy continued to sit by Darien’s side. Shortly before noon, his eyes opened. “Where am I?” he asked.

Amy stood up. “You’re in a hospital. I’m going to go get a doctor.” She walked out and found her mother talking to the doctor. “He’s awake,” she announced.

The Doctor hurried into the room, and began a serried of tests. Amy and her mother were forced to wait outside in the hallway. Almost forty minutes later, the Doctor came out. “He seems to be doing just fine, but I want to keep him overnight just to be sure. You can go see him now if you want.”

Darien was sitting up in bed and drinking a glass of water when they came in. Amy walked over to him and gave him a hug. “How are you feeling?”

He gave her a smile. “I’m a little sore, but other than that I’m doing fine. What happened?”

“No one knows,” her mother said when she gave him a hug.

“You don’t remember?” Amy asked.

The events of the last two months flashed through Darien’s mind. “No, I don’t remember.”

For the next few hours, Amy and her mother got Darien caught up on what had happened in the past two months. He was a little surprised about the move, but was glad his mother had found a better job. No mention was made of Amy’s earlier injuries, or about her behavior before the move. Amy told Darien that the school was great and that she had already made some new friends.

The time passed quickly, and before they knew it, visiting hours were over, and it was time to go home. Before leaving, Amy promised her brother that she would have his room ready for him when he came home the next day.

Darien watched them go with a troubled look on his face. Amy was glad to see him, but he couldn’t tell why. I’ve hurt her so much and she still cares. I don’t deserve that after all I’ve made her go through. He continued to think about his lie to his sister. He remembered everything that had happened.

* * *

On the drive home Amy’s mother told her she should go to school the next morning because they could not bring Darien home until after school let out. Amy didn’t say anything.

Amy spent most of the night unpacking Darien’s things and arranging his room. She only managed to get about three hours of sleep, but somehow she managed to wake up in time for school.

She quickly got ready, and even made a breakfast of scrambled eggs and toast. While she ate, she did her history homework that had been due the day before. When she was done eating, she put her dishes in the dishwasher, and put her homework inside her history book.

Before Amy left the house, she walked back upstairs to her room to pick up her books and notebooks. She walked downstairs and out the front door, locking the door behind her. When she noticed Anne, Brian, and Jordan walking a short distance ahead of her, she yelled: “Hey guys wait up for me!”

They turned and waves excitedly as she caught up to them. There were hugs all around as they greeted each other. Anne, Brian, and Jordan were relieved to know that Amy was all right, and were surprised to know that Darien had been found and was going to be coming home later today.

As Amy walked to school with her friends, for the first time in what seemed like forever she felt as if everything was right with the world. She had found a group of people with whom she felt like she belonged, and at the same time, she had also come to terms with her position in the Order of Zarai. Darien was going to be a challenge, and Vincent and Xavier were still out there, but Amy now felt better prepared to deal with them. After all, anything was possible when magic was loose in the world and you had friends to share it with.