By Alicia Steen
Parkr, first class. tunnels, Gathyra. Year After Shadow Two Thousand Ninety Four.
All three of us pause at the same time. The ground is shaking, but that is not our cause of concern. Something waits for us in the blackness. James’ light stops short of the opening ahead, denied entry where the tunnel widens. A name enters our thoughts unbidden. Nephilim.
James moves our light shakily forward. There, along the wall, a dark shadow takes shape. A huge arm, a muscular shoulder, then the entire massive body. We shout and stumble backwards as our light blinks out.
Nothing happens. The shaking ceases. Our shouts echo through the tunnel, leaving silence behind.
My lungs rediscover how to breathe. As I stand to my feet James laughs from the ground beside me. “Seriously, Mykl, I thought Kathrine had joined us for a moment.” James makes no move to stand up, but reactivates our light.
“You’re one to talk.” Mykl dusts himself off from a standing position. “What was that anyway?”
James moves the light. We lean forward, jumping a bit when the massive shadow is again revealed. This time, I recognize it for what it is. “That’s a silhouette.”
Tension drains from all of us. James stands up. “Like when something is flash-burned.”
“Yea.” I take the first step into the chamber. Mykl and James follow.
“Definitely not human,” Mykl comments from ten footlengths away.
James studies the silhouette carefully from the same distance. “It’s a shadow of the Nightbringer class. One I’ve never come across.”
“It’s a Nephilim.” I have already moved on the to multiple burn marks all around the silhouette. “Over here.”
James moves our light closer. “Dragon burns?”
I nod. “Glyn.”
“Again, how by the blaze can you tell?” Mykl has always been continually exasperated by my ability to know all things dragon, unlike James, who managed to accept the fact. As always, I shrug at Mykl’s question.
“I’m never wrong, though, am I?”
“Somehow.” James moves the light along the rough, curving wall. “These scorch marks are everywhere.”
Mykl shakes his head. “With Glyn fighting a Nephilim, I’m surprised the place isn’t totally….” Mykl’s voice trails as our light illuminates rubble piled to the ceiling. It forms the entire wall opposite the silhouette. “Spoke too soon.”
A sound causes the temperature to decrease. The shaking begins again, but the silhouette hasn’t moved. Aside from shaking.
“I think this one’s real.” James moves our light closer to us.
Something steps into our light. Or rather, it should have. Something definitely steps forward, but our light is pushed back, as if the darkness were reclaiming territory. As Gathyrans, we’d seen shadows before, even fought them, but the oppressive aura enveloping this shadow was on a totally different scale. This shadow brought the night, but not to hide in.
It comes closer. We stand our ground not quite in the middle of the room, though we would rather run. There are no legends of wizards defeating Nephilim, the true Nightbringers. They did not come out in the light to be fought against, and no one entered their darkness to hunt.
The Nephilim stops. He is twice as tall, three times as big, and much, much stronger.
The Nephilim speaks. A low, dignified voice. “Am I not a child of Sons? Challenge me, house of Gathyra, if indeed your light is not futile.”
My heart ignites into flame, burning away my fear. Gathyra has been chosen by the Ancient of Days himself. Who is this Nephilim to challenge us? My sword forms in my hand.
The Nephilim’s laughter would have chilled the blood. “With this the house of Gathyra falls.” He leaps forward with fangs and claws bared wide.
He isn’t wrong. The only princes Gathyra has left are us three; with us the future lives or dies. We live and sleep with this. However, there is one more fact the Nephilim has neglected to remember.
I leap away from his embrace. “Neither power nor strength nor sword, but by the Ancient of Days Gathyra lives!” I and the Nephilim charge for each other. The reflexes I’d honed for the dragon race work overtime, moving my body faster than I thought possible. Direct hits become glancing blows, and some are avoided altogether. The first clean strike is mine, but the Nephilim is only further enraged. I speak a word I’d tried to erase from memory.
The Nephilim is dead.
Something vital in him broke.
My spell continues, wrecking the tunnel walls and the rocks beyond. As the mountain crumbles, Mystery finds me and my brothers and carries us high above the chaos. The mountain we just left behind has become a dust cloud. I may – possibly – have overdone my spell. Oops.
On a balcony of the Mountainview Heights School, two teachers enjoy a break with cool liquid in tall cups, when one of the peaks in view bursts into a dust cloud. The teachers sip their drinks.
“They’re at it again.”
They set down their drinks as each successively closer peak bursts in turn.
“Isn’t that our schoolhouse?” James points to a rectangular stone structure sailing through the air.
Mykl responds with a grunt. “Sure looks like it.”
“Aaaaand class is still in session,” I finish. Mystery’s laughter bounces us on her back.
“Hey, at least pretend to be worried!” Mykl retorts. Mystery dives for the schoolhouse.
I catch Mystery’s enthusiasm. “How ‘bout we put Mykl underneath to catch it?”
“We’ll have to absorb the energy from its fall,” James says using our psychic connection. Mystery has almost reached it.
“Can we do that?”
“We can now,” I reply. Mystery rolls in the air over the roof, and Mykl and I jump off. James falls. As I crouch down to touch the roof, Mykl and James quickly move to form a triangle with each of us at equal distances from one another. As we set up our spell, Mykl and James help guide my senses to the energy provided by gravity.
“That’s the heating system.”
“Since when did the school have lasers installed?”
“What kind of shield is that!”
“Okay, definitely deleting that spell.”
“Watch it with those lasers!”
After finally bypassing all the school’s built-in spells, I grabbed hold of gravity’s energy. “Got it!”
“Okay, toss it here.” We pass the energy between us as I absorb the school’s fall, forming a spiral loop. It is the strongest formation in magic, as well as the most difficult and the only way to save the school.
“Parkr, we’re going upwards!” Mykl warns. So that’s why our movement seems strange. I try to adjust the energy, but the school ends up climbing faster. Clouds blink past. All the sudden the ground looks… round. And far way.
Outer Space: Schoolhouse, Gathyra.
Inside a classroom, students press against the windows to catch the unexpected sight. Without skipping a beat, the teacher changes his subject mid-lecture. “To your far left you will see the famous sword constellation, raised to strike its enemy, the raging bull. On the bull’s back…”
Parkr. Outer Space, Gathyra.
“Okay, so a lesson of the stars it is.” Mykl has his back to our home ground. “Our classmates love adventure, right?”
James is equally as worried. “The school has a closed atmospheric system. Who knew?”
I sigh. Playing with the gravity of an entire schoolhouse is draining. “Enough of this.” I take firm control of gravity and insist to be on the ground. In the next instant the ground finds us. There is no drop, no impact. Familiar blue and white have suddenly replaced the stars.
“I think we broke the laws of physics,” James says, still a little shocked.
“The universe seems to be fine.” Mykl is in a likewise bewildered state. The schoolhouse doesn’t seem to share his opinion. It shrinks slightly on its west side. “Mostly fine anyway.”
“We’re not out of trouble yet.” I point past the western wall. Headmaster Barr stands coated with dust outside the school on what use to be, well, higher up. The brown dust made him resemble a fluffy bear. A really angry fluffy bear.
“Not one week. Not one cycle. Not even one year. You three will report to this school every sunrise for your entire school existence!”
I know I shouldn’t say it. It isn’t a good idea. It’s just… one of those golden opportunities it’s nearly impossible to pass up. “Headmaster? We have training every sunrise.”