The Voice of Time
Copyright © 2014 by Paul Kelly
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
First Published: 2014
Flying Chicken Publishing
7 Everton Ave
Email: [email protected]
Cover Design Copyright © 2014 by Paul Kelly
Cover Images are the property of:
, , and Alexander Boden
There was no screaming. There never was at the start. Elijah looked up from the shoe he was cleaning, staring at the black dots in the distance. In front of him, the man attached to the shoe growled with impatience. Elijah ignored him. Soon he’d have better things to be worrying about.
The black dots became small ‘V’s, their great wings piercing the sky. They inched closer, their translucent, crystalline forms becoming ever clearer. Imperceptibly, as if it was just another heat haze cast down by the sun, Elijah noticed his left hand begin to glow. It was time to go.
“The Arrival is coming,” Elijah muttered, pointing at the sky. The man stared, his mouth open.
“So soon?” he asked, his mouth barely forming the question. Still no screaming. Elijah didn’t wait for it to start. He began to pack up his things, throwing his brushes and polishes into their little container. The man whose shoe he had been polishing didn’t seem to notice. He was too busy staring, his eyes wide as the Wyverns inched their way closer to the city. Elijah yanked his footstool out from under the man and surprise flooded his face, obliterating any trace of anger. He stumbled and caught his bearings, using the excuse to snatch his eyes away from the reptilian creatures approaching them. It was hard to look away once you saw them. Elijah turned his back on the man and ran, sprinting through the warren of streets that made up the city of Prazna. The Wyvern’s were a bigger problem for him than for most.
The air was hot as he ran through the city, the temperature slowing his muscles, his dark woollen robe weighing him down. People packed the street, oblivious of the Guardians bearing down on them. The scents and smells of the evening market still coated the air, hot spices mixing with the fetid smell of sweat and too many people. Still Elijah ran, weaving and barging past them, his box of polishes tight at his side. Images swarmed across his vision, nightmarish memories fighting for their place as adrenaline forced them out. His mother’s face swam across his eyes, deathly still, a single splayed hand stained crimson. Elijah threw the memory to one side. It just weakened him. You couldn’t survive the Arrival with a weakness.
Behind him, the Wyverns were flying closer, the Guardians riding them just perceptible now. Elijah forced his legs into a sprint, his cramped muscles screeching in protest. His breath came in short, sharp gasps. He threw himself through the crowd, desperately searching for the door to his home. The brown frame came into view, its pockmarked surface giving it away. He threw himself through it. Behind him, the thump of a landing Wyvern sent shockwaves of dust through the streets. It was about four blocks away, yet still the sound reached him. It wasn’t that the Wyverns were big, they were smaller than a horse. It was the speed with which they moved at. Far away, across the hot, dry air, the screaming started. Took long enough.
Inside the house, his Dad took up most of the room.
“Get in!” his Dad ordered, pointing at a narrow crack in the opposite wall. Elijah nodded and threw himself towards it, grazing his shoulder as he entered. He felt the rough fabric of his robe tear and he winced. In front of him, Truth was already hidden in the dark, granite chamber. Unnecessary, but his father was getting cautious. He was afraid it ran in the family. She wore a brown robe identical to his own, only smaller. Around her neck she wore his mother’s silver pendant. No matter how badly off they were, his father had never had the heart to sell it. It was the one item that was hidden with them during the Arrival. On its back was inscribed a strange symbol: it resembled a diamond, surrounded by a circle, except the diamond wasn’t perfect. The top points never met, instead they curved outwards to form the boundary of the circle. He didn’t know what it meant, but he knew the Skylanders didn’t like it.
Elijah sat back in the opposite corner of the cramped cell and watched Truth watch him with those big, innocent eyes of hers. It was unnerving somehow. It made Elijah feel judged. It made him want to be more than just another victim of the Skyland’s cruelty, like somehow he was letting her down. As if she was telling him to stop complaining, to go out there and change the world if it frustrated him so much. Truth could say a lot with those eyes. Elijah stared back at her and tried his best to use his eyes to tell her to shut up. It didn’t seem to work.
Steadily, the sounds of the Arrival got louder. The screaming intensified and Elijah’s skin glowed brighter and brighter. The beat of a Wyvern’s wings reverberated through the air above the house, making the tiles shake. The smell of smoke drifted on the wind. They wouldn’t find anyone. They were almost all gone now, Elijah knew it, could feel it in his gut. He was alone.
Opposite him, Truth covered her head and curled up tighter as if trying to vanish from the small granite cell through sheer willpower. Or maybe fear. Fear could be pretty powerful, if you let it.
“I don’t like the dragons,” she whispered.
“Wyverns,” corrected Elijah absently, trying to avoid her gaze. “Don’t worry, there’s no such thing as giant lizards that can breathe fire.” He wondered if she blamed him for her fear.
He winced as another crash almost sent the roof caving in. “Just small crystal ones that want to cut out my tongue.” He added sourly.
Truth smiled, somehow comforted by that. Well, good for her. Soon, she began to make shadow puppets against the wall, using the light that shone from him as a torch. The granite cell was cramped and hot and Elijah shifted uncomfortably, throwing the lights into disarray. Truth glanced at him disapprovingly, as if he was there solely for her amusement.
This was the third time this month they had come. They had come more since the end of the Fallen War and each time their searches became more intense. Elijah had heard that the Future Storm’s attacks had grown worse in the Skyland’s. He smiled thinly to himself – even with all their might, they must feel so powerless atop their vast floating islands. After the Fallen War, they’d conquered the Earthlands completely. They’d wiped out any form of government, murdered any possible leaders and made any hope of resistance futile. Yet still the attacks continued. And they couldn’t stop them. Every day they grew more desperate to cull the Earthlands of any potential recruits. Seers were the only weapons the Future Storm had that the Skylands didn’t and the Guardians knew it.
The piercing cry of the Siren sliced through the night air, signalling the Guardian’s departure and bursting Elijah’s eardrums. Beside him Truth screamed and Elijah struggled across the small room to hold her hand. She didn’t cry, she was used to all this by now. But the Siren still scared her. It still scared him, truth be told. What seemed like hours later, the sounds faded, Elijah’s body stopped shining and he knew they were gone, although his ears still throbbed. The stone beside his right shoulder began to move then, slowly and silently to his deafened ears. His dad’s face came into view, brightly lit after the darkness of the hidden room.
“Another week, another Arrival,” Elijah muttered as he and Truth squeezed through the narrow gap his father had created. His dad smiled weakly, but his eyes betrayed his worry. Outside, the daily buzz of activity had already resumed as neighbours came out to share stories. Many complained of the Skylanders, they spoke of the days of resistance and about how maybe the Future Storm weren’t as bad as all that. Still more spoke in hushed tones about how the Wyverns had lit up as they wandered their neighbourhood.
“Why do they stay?” They whispered.
Elijah knew which way opinion fell. They hated the Skylanders for the Arrival. But they feared the Seers more. And fear beat hate every time. And so hate usually agreed to side with fear for the time being, in order to avoid any pleasantness.
“You should go out,” said his Dad and Elijah could see the effort it took to force the words out. “The longer you stay inside, the more people will wonder. Let’s not give them anything to talk about.”
Elijah nodded glumly and walked to the door. That was life. He hid and then he tried to make friends with people who would happily cut his throat if they found out who he was.
Outside, a house was burning. One of the Pulse-Masters had probably gotten a bit too carried away in the search and had wanted to make a statement. Fire always made a statement. There was an air of panic as dozens of people ran haphazardly, dragging buckets from wells in a desperate attempt to quell the blaze. In the distance, he could just see the Wyverns as pale dots in the shadows of the Skylands, miles above him.
As he walked through the city towards the main square, he noticed small groups beginning to form as friends recounted their stories. Some in fearful, trembling voices, others angry and too many just talking normally, having look ago become accustomed to the violence. Elijah sighed and wandered between the groups exchanging the two or three lines of small talk he’d managed to master.
“Hi, how’re you doing? How are the mines? Nope still don’t think I’ll join, too much like hard work! Ha! Let’s all laugh and not talk about the fact that the only reason I don’t go up there is that they’d rip out my tongue for being a Seer…” He usually left that last part out.
“We saw you.” Dread seized Elijah and he spun around, his dark thoughts instantly replaced by an instinctual, primal fear. But the words were not directed at him. In the left hand corner of the square, four hulking boys towered over another boy, Elijah’s own age. His neighbour, Densin.
“Shining like a pretty little star,” one of the boys jeered. Crotty, Elijah thought it was.
“I wasn’t,” the boy mumbled, backing further into the alley.
“I don’t believe you,” Crotty smiled, showing yellowed teeth. “I saw the Wyvern as it passed by you. It glowed. We all saw it.”
“It didn’t,” spluttered the boy, his eyes alive with panic. The impossibility of proving a negative was beginning to dawn on him.
“The Wyvern will decide that,” Crotty smiled. “Do you know how much the Guardians will pay if we turn over a Seer to them? It’s been years since they found one…”
Then Elijah was there, charging towards them. “Get away!” he shouted, piling into the back of the leader. Crotty stumbled and fell, clawing at the wall as he lost his balance. But then the others turned around and saw him. This was a bad idea, Elijah knew that now. This was the kind of thing that drew attention. The three remaining stared at him, their muscles tensed for violence, but did not yet move towards him. He could still run, Elijah thought. Running was what people who stayed alive did.
“Looks like we have two now!” Crotty exclaimed, righting himself and smiling broadly. “Two scrawny things that nobody ever sees working in the mines and are always nowhere to be found during the Arrival.”
Elijah decided to play it safe and ran straight for him. Subtlety had never been his strong point anyway, he might as well play to his strengths. He barrelled straight into Crotty and for a solid twenty seconds it didn’t matter that he was smaller and that he was weaker. It was all about how much he wanted to win. And he really wanted to win.
Around them, a crowd was beginning to gather. This had to end quickly. Crotty struggled but Elijah hit quickly and frequently and the funny thing about hitting someone in the face is that their hand eye coordination rapidly deteriorates. Crotty swung madly at him, but Elijah dodged the strikes with ease. His friends hung back, shouting at Crotty to fight back, cheering him on but failing to actually do anything to stop Elijah. Which suited him just fine.
Then Densin started running towards them, which was good and bad. Good, because two were always better than one. Bad because it might encourage Crotty’s friends to join the fray. Then the first punch came, blisteringly fast and strong. Elijah’s head snapped back, blood and the bitter taste of betrayal filling his mouth. The punch hurt, but the betrayal was what put weight to it.
Then Densin was on top of him, screaming, each fresh punch driving his point home.
“I am not like you!” he screamed, his face contorted in rage. “I am not like you!” He punched him again, kept punching him, with each new strike screaming. “Not like you! Not like you! Not like you!”
Then Densin was being pushed off him, Crotty’s friends finally stepping in to drag Elijah to his feet. Elijah spun in a circle, wild eyed, his vision blurred and unfocused. The crowd had surged in numbers. They surrounded him now, dozens of people staring at him. He recognised the faces even if he didn’t know their names. And in all their eyes there was the same troubled apprehension, that same uncertainty that shows just before someone good does something terrible. A crushing terror filled Elijah’s soul.
“Two of them!” Announced Crotty, his smile grim. He didn’t speak to Elijah, he spoke to the crowd. He was only sixteen, but yet they listened raptly. “Only two of the age when the Seer taint first arrives and only two who have never worked in the mines! I’ve never seen one of them within ten miles of a Wyvern, have any of you?”
Elijah wished he had the words to interrupt him, to argue with him, but none came. The crowd was huge. Crotty must have planned this. He must have known people would crowd together after the Arrival. Or maybe he’d just seen the opportunity and ran with it. Either way, Elijah knew, he needed a way out.
“They hide during the Arrival.” Continued Crotty. “So they don’t know. But we know. We’ve seen the Wyvern’s stalking our streets. We’ve all seen the glow that comes when they pass their homes.”
On the other side of the circle, Densin stared at him, wide eyed. He was terrified. Of the crowd or of Elijah himself, Elijah wasn’t sure. But he knew that Densin had done the math. He knew that he wasn’t a Seer and somebody had to be causing that glow. Elijah saw his fingers close into fists. Around them, the crowd closed in. In the distance, Elijah heard someone shouting.
“They are rats!” Announced Crotty. “And when rats are cornered and hungry, they will eat each other to survive.” And then Densin ran at him.
Elijah was better prepared this time. Raw aggression only works when your opponent has something to lose, when the fear that fighting back could just cause more pain causes them to pull their punches. Elijah was still afraid, but he wasn’t pulling his punches anymore. He threw himself towards Densin, meeting the smaller boy’s charge. It was the right move. They may have both been relatively weak when compared to the rest of the boys in a city of miners, but Elijah still had about three inches on Densin. When there’s almost no difference between two fighters, that almost makes all the difference required. Elijah’s shoulder barrelled into the younger boy’s face sending him flying to the ground and blood streaming from his nose. He threw himself towards him to cram his advantage down Densin’s throat. But the kid was quick. He rolled to one side and grabbed Elijah’s robe, throwing out a kick to trip him. Elijah flailed madly in the air and then was thrown on the ground.
“Elijah!” A voice roared through the crowd. Elijah turned towards it, just in time for his face to meet Densin’s shoe. The world spun around him. But the voice was coming closer, becoming more desperate. It was his father. Elijah struggled to his feet, clawing at Densin’s short legs in an effort to stem the flow of blows. In front of him, he saw Greg reach the front of the crowd. He was a big man and he was wild, flinging away anyone who dared get in his way. But there were dozens of them, too many for one man. And they were overwhelming him, arms crossing to pull him back into the seething mass of humanity. Elijah saw rage in his eyes.
“How could you?” he roared at the crowd. “He’s my son!”
Crotty wasn’t smiling anymore. He was dragging something badly beaten, a creature warped and twisted from being forced into a box too small to fit it. It was several moments before Elijah realised he was looking at a Wyvern. The creature looked at Elijah with sad eyes the colours of the rainbow. Its skin was pale and translucent and stretched over its bones. Within it, a pale light shone and flickered, lending substance to its form. The creature was badly injured and its light was faint. Perhaps it was this that had spared Elijah from glowing earlier. But now, just a few feet away from it, his skin began to emit the same dull glow.
Densin had been viscous and the crowd had been cruel, but nothing scared Elijah more than this glow. Across from him, his father redoubled his struggles, forcing the crowd away from him. “Run Elijah!” He roared.
Elijah looked around himself. There was nowhere to run. The crowd was too close, fear and hatred in the eyes of every one of them. Then his father broke free. He grabbed Elijah under one huge arm and turned abruptly to power back through the crowd the way he had come, his face contorted in a parent’s terror. It was that look that made Elijah realise what had happened. His skin was shining like the sun, the light from his face casting the world in a bright bronze. Behind them there was a roar from the crowd, a beastly scream of hate that could never have come from just one throat. They had seen everything. His dad just kept running, Elijah under one arm. Elijah may have been thin but he wasn’t weightless. He shrugged himself free and Greg let go, his face unreadable. Together, they sprinted through the reed thin streets of Prazna, desperately making for home.
“We have to get Truth,” gasped Greg. “We’ll get Truth and then we make for Galgala. They won’t follow us across the desert.”
Elijah didn’t argue. Any plan was better than nothing and at least his father’s plan involved surviving the night. Before they’d even reached the house, his father was bellowing for Truth.
She stepped outside slowly, with a hand on her shoulder and a knife to her throat. Their neighbour Margaret wielded the blade. Densin’s mother. Her eyes were hard and her shoulders set. She had made up her mind about this. She knew how far she was willing to go.
Elijah and his father skidded to a halt. Behind them, they could hear the roar of the crowd fast approaching.
“The Seer for your daughter, Greg,” Margaret said, her hand shaking against Truth’s throat. Elijah didn’t know how Truth wasn’t crying. She was nine years old. Most other nine year olds with a knife put to their throat would be crying. Truth’s eyes flashed with defiance. Around her neck, his mother’s pendant glinted in the evening sunlight.
Elijah looked at his father and saw true horror. In Greg’s eyes he could see a calculation being done. Elijah was as good as dead anyway. He should take the deal. But he wouldn’t. Elijah knew it. His father was a pillar, he would shatter before he bent to that kind of pressure. And behind them the crowd came ever closer. Elijah knew how this would end. It would end with both of Greg’s children bleeding on the ground, but if he was gone there was no reason to take Truth. If he was gone, they would be safe. It was then that he was blinded by light. The Wyvern landed inches from him, its reptilian head staring at him with huge, desperate eyes. Elijah didn’t know why it had come back. Maybe it was because it had sensed a kindred spirit. Maybe there was a sacred bond between Seer and Wyvern. Or maybe the box had damaged its wing and it had fallen out of the sky and this was all dumb luck. Well, beggars can’t be choosers. Elijah wasn’t going to wait for any smarter luck to show itself. He leapt atop the Wyvern. With one great beat of its wings it was in the air. Behind him, the thunder of the crowd reached them and Greg was consumed. Below him, he saw Margaret’s hand sag and the knife drop.
That should have been how it all ended. But the mindless rage of the mob had taken hold below. If you were not with them you were against them. If you did not hate the Seers, you were Seers and if they would be denied their victim they would create for themselves a new one. The world spun away below and the details were lost to Elijah but still he saw everything as if he hovered just inches from the ground, his mind filling in the grisly details. His father was pulled to his feet, a man on either side of him, blood flowing down a ruined face. He heard Truth scream and he heard his own voice join hers. Pure hopelessness filled him. The wind pummelled his face, plucking tears from his eyes with ease. There was a flash of a dagger and a gurgle of ruby blood. Someone thought to cover Truth’s eyes. But the scene burned itself into Elijah’s retinas. The filth of the street below. The blood gushing from his father’s throat as his last few gasps left him. The terrible stillness of his body. He screamed then and deep inside him, in the depths of his soul, he felt something change. Then the scene disappeared, the people were gone and Elijah was standing in a vast green valley.
Elijah knew he wasn’t there. The grass was too green; the sky too blue. The sun shone soft rays over him, but he did not feel it. He did not feel much of anything. Below his feet, tiny blades of grass passed through him. In front of him, a man and a woman laughed and smiled and had that aura of joy that makes all passers-by think that they could stand to be a little less in love. Elijah had the intense feeling that he was intruding.
The man’s face looked oddly familiar, but he couldn’t place him. His eyes were a dark brown, almost black and his hair a bright blonde. He had a strange hooked nose that twisted every smile into a sneer. The woman was unfamiliar to him and had brown hair and eyes that sparkled in the sun. They both wore old fashioned clothing. She in a long, silk gown; white, except for the grass stains. He wore smooth black trousers and a strangely cut jacket with bright badges pinned to his sleeves.
“And where would you go?” the man was saying, his smile an ugly foreign thing upon his face.
“Anywhere at all!” The woman said. “That would be the fun of it! We could put everything behind us and just go somewhere where no one knows us, somewhere where we can be anyone we want.”
The man laughed easily and kissed the woman’s cheek. “And why would you want to do that Isabel?”
Elijah shifted uncomfortably. He felt like he should be looking away. He also had the very uncomfortable feeling that he was forgetting something.
“It’s just your job, I feel like I never see you.”
“I know, but it is important work. You remember what it was like during the War on Time, the death, the poverty, the utter confusion of it all. We all agreed to the Silence and someone has to implement it.” He shrugged. “That person just happens to be me.”
“It must be such an awful job though!” Isabel insisted. “Taking someone’s tongue! It’s just so brutal. There has to be another way, if only for your sake.” She laid her hand on his, squeezing slightly.
“There is, but it is far worse.”
Isabel cupped her lover’s face in her hands. “Would you take my tongue if I was a Seer too?”
Elijah stared at the ground uneasily.
The man grinned. “Well, if I did that what would I kiss you with?”
He leaned in to emphasise the point, but Isabel put her hands on his shoulders separating them, a small smile playing across her lips.
From the grass in front of her, she plucked a daisy, not yet in bloom. She closed her eyes and whispered something and just for a second a rainbow of colours surrounded her. Then the daisy bloomed.
The man’s reaction was immediate. He pushed her away, staggering to his feet. “You’re a… a…!” He stuttered, his eyes disbelieving, his arms hanging limply at his sides. The newly bloomed daisy fluttered to the ground. Elijah hated him for that. He hated him for turning on her so quickly.
“It’s ok Tommen,” Isabel said, looking up at him. “I can control it, there’s no danger.”
“You’ve been lying to me this whole time,” Tommen gasped.
“Please, sit down with me…”
“You’re a liar!” Tommen shouted, spinning on his heels.
Elijah followed him, a large part of himself hoping the man tripped on a tree root and cracked his head open on a stray rock. Then the ground began to shake. Elijah didn’t feel it, but he smiled with a certain dark delight as Tommen was thrown to the ground. But it wasn’t just Tommen. The trees fell too and the dirt itself cracked and tore, leaving scars of soil across the valley. The roar of the earthquake screamed in Elijah’s ears. The birds flew high, screaming cries of panic as they shot away from the shaking ground.
But the ground followed them. Far in the distance, further than the mind can easily imagine, huge towers of rock and earth began to rise out of the ground. They rose slowly, but inexorably, as if gravity was fighting back but not doing a very good job. They were massive, even at this distance, miles long and at least half a mile in depth, huge obelisks of crumbling stone and dirt, frozen as they rose but leaving a long trail of rocks and stone plummeting to the ground in their wake. The wind picked up, as if eager to contribute to the chaos, whipping Tommen’s jacket wide. Behind them, Isabel had started screaming, but Tommen was laughing hysterically, uncontrollably.
“There you are my love!” he roared. “Somewhere where no one will ever know you!”
The valley fell away and Elijah was flying again. It was like he had just blinked. Nothing had changed. Below him, the people were the same tiny, angry ants. He gasped in shock and despair as the memories came back to him. His father was dead. Far below him, he could still see his body as a shock of crimson in the ruined city of Prazna. He felt like being sick. Within an hour, his entire life had been ripped away from him. His family were gone, his home was gone and now he was to be a fugitive for the rest of his, in all probability, very short life. And he had looked into the past which meant that now he really was a Seer. There was no denying that. It’s not every day that chunks of the earth decide to pick up and move their home to somewhere more elevated. There was no avoiding the power now, its hold on him would only grow stronger. His status as an outcast would only worsen. Like that even mattered now.
Around him, the wind whipped itself into a frenzy and Elijah clung to the smooth crystal of the Wyvern’s skin as it swooped and soared through the sky. Below him the inhospitable desert that was the Earthlands began to spread out, slowly colonising the horizon. But Elijah wasn’t interested in what lay below him. He craned his head upwards to stare at the colossal floating islands of the Skylands. Vast monoliths of stone and dirt and rock stretched above him, miles across. That was where he was going. His father was dead and he would cut out his own eyes before he saw the Skylanders hurt Truth. They would have taken her to their Testing Centre, to see if she was a Seer. That’s where he would find her.
The Wyvern seemed to read his mind, flying higher and higher towards the islands, as if eager to get back to the home of its masters. Elijah clung to the beast, his knuckles white, his stomach twisted in pain and his father’s face hovering before his eyes. He couldn’t believe he was gone. He couldn’t believe they’d taken Truth. None of this felt real, as if he was living a nightmare. Clouds flew past as below him the earth receded into the distance. The wind whipped around him, becoming fiercer as they climbed higher and higher into the purple evening sky. His mouth was dry and he could smell the sweat on the Wyvern. Its smooth crystal scales glowed beneath his arms as he clung desperately to the creature’s serpentine neck.
Abruptly, the Wyvern pulled up, almost flinging Elijah off its back as it stopped, hovering in mid-air. Elijah lifted his head an inch from where he’d had it buried in the creature’s smooth back. Its wings beat slowly in mid-air as it hung there. It appeared to have plateaued. Elijah breathed a sigh of relief, relaxing for a moment. Then suddenly it darted leftwards, almost throwing him off again, moving faster than ever before and causing the wind to howl even louder around them. Suddenly it stopped, almost as soon as it had started. Elijah scrambled for grip aboard the creature’s slippery back, trying desperately to cling on. But the crazed creature didn’t seem so concerned. It began stalking around the place, shaking as it went, each shake threatening to throw Elijah off.
‘Wait a minute.’ Elijah thought suddenly.[_ ‘It’s walking.’_]
With a sigh of relief, he slid off the Wyvern’s back on to the soft grass below. He lay down on it, spread-eagled, feeling the blades of grass run through his hands. He rolled around, trying to reassure his stomach that he really was on solid ground again – and almost fell to his death as his legs met air. He scrambled back from the edge of the island, breathing hard. Slowly, he approached the edge, belly to the ground, and looked down. Below him, Prazna seemed like just another grain of sand in the desert. Albeit, a big, clumpy looking grain of sand. The people moved around the city like insects, infesting it. He breathed hard, edging back. Then the Wyvern was there, nudging him insistently.
“There’s not a chance,” Elijah gasped, clinging all the harder to the ground. “I’m never getting on top of you again.” But the Wyvern didn’t stop and finally Elijah looked up, just in time to see a group of children staring at him. They gazed at the two of them from the third storey building of a skyscraper which loomed about a hundred feet away. Their skin was pale and their mouths hung open in a grotesque expression of curiosity and fear. But worst of all were their eyes. Those terrible eyes could see him shining.
And now it was his turn to push the Wyvern.
“Shoo!” he shouted. “Get away!”
The Wyvern didn’t need to be told twice. With a beat of its great, flowing wings, it launched itself from the edge of the island, careering down like a stone before swooping up again to rise even higher than the Skylands. Elijah didn’t watch it go. Seer or no Seer, ever since the Skylands’ population had swelled into the millions entering it had been banned. Breaking that law was punishable by slavery in the mines. He needed to get out of there, fast. Running towards the almost solid wall of skyscrapers, he had no time to look where he was going as he darted between the huge buildings, trying to get away from the searching gaze of the children. His feet hit a red brick road as he entered the city and suddenly the world went dim. He started, pulling himself into an alley, staring. The sun was gone.
‘It was the skyscrapers’, he realised abruptly.
He gazed all around himself, marvelling at the thousands of hundred storey buildings that threatened to block out the sun. All around him they stretched, like a thousand porcupine quills, every window lit, stretching up for miles into the distance. Elijah leaned against the wall of the alley, staring at the perfectly smooth towers all around him- and almost fell into it. Beneath his body, he felt the wall flex and bend as he leaned into it. He stared in wonder, putting his hand against it and feeling it pulse beneath his palm. It was alive.
He looked up and saw yet another skyscraper towering above him. Then he realised. There were no walls up here. There were only gaps between the buildings. Every square inch of space was consumed by the skyscrapers. Where the Wyvern had landed must have been the only square of open space for miles. He guessed even the Skylanders must be nervous about building right on the edge of a floating island. He looked up at the buildings. Each one was a uniform greenish grey, almost all of them square at the bottom while slowly becoming rounder and tapering to a spike at the top. Although there were a few exceptions, for the most part they were all the same. Obviously no sense of originality up here.
He glanced around the corner of the building he was leaning against, expecting to see a thousand Guardians racing towards the spot where he hid, but none came. The kids had probably never seen a Seer before. He was safe, for now. He looked back at the streets and then noticed something. They were completely bare. He couldn’t see the sun, but he guessed it must be almost mid-evening at this point. In Prazna, people would be long out of work. But here, there was nobody. It was completely deserted. He shuddered unconsciously. It was unnatural. But there could hardly be a better time for a Seer to visit the Skylands. Moving quickly, he slipped around the corner and began racing down a long straight road, created by a uniform four meter gap between the spiked buildings. He had no idea where he was going but he was perfectly prepared to search this whole damn island if that’s what it took to find Truth. He knew that the Skylanders had only one centralised Testing Centre and that it was on this island. Everyone knew that, parents told their children horror stories about it. Don’t do anything bad or they’ll take you to the Testing Centre. Don’t get in fights or they’ll take you to the Testing Centre. Eat your vegetables or they’ll take you to the Testing Centre. Parents were cruel that way.
But nutritional values aside, it was true that anyone arrested for even the most minor crime was brought to the Testing Centre. Nobody wanted to accidently send a Seer to prison without cutting out their tongue first. Of course it wasn’t that the Testing Centre itself was particularly grim, although the rumours didn’t exactly paint a pretty picture of it. It was the fact that it was there that you were most likely to meet a Seer. Well, at least he didn’t have to be afraid of that. Just everything else.
The city was silent except for a steady [_thrum _]of sound which seemed to come from the buildings themselves. There was nothing else. Not a bird in the sky, or even a breath of wind dared to enter its urban depths. So Elijah was surprised when he turned a corner and saw a girl walking towards him. She was his own age and had brown hair. She also wore grey and had a streak of blood on her upper lip. Her eyes widened as she saw Elijah. Elijah looked down at himself and cursed. He wore a brown robe around the upper half of his body, with grubby white woollen trousers covering him from the waist down. And they did not wear robes in the Skylands. For a second, the beat of the buildings seemed to rise and then he was thrown against one of them. His head hit the strange living rock with an unnatural squelch. His last thought before darkness took him was that being killed by a building was the last thing he’d expected to happen today.
Twelve hours earlier.
Sybil woke to the sound of the Siren howling through the morning air. She did not understand why they had to use the same sound for everything. There were nicer ways to wake up in the morning. Stumbling out of bed, she listened briefly for the ever familiar beat of the Pulse. Allowing it to get louder within her mind, she pushed the sound towards the walls, twisting it around them with a thought, effectively soundproofing the room. That was better.
She showered and changed quickly into her uniform, grey trousers with an equally grey shirt, and stopped briefly to examine herself in the mirror. She smoothed her short, brown hair and wiped a drop of blood from her upper lip. The nosebleeds were getting more frequent. She wasn’t sure what it meant, which made it worse. Her forehead creased with concern, she strode towards the door. It receded into the floor with a familiar [shloop _]as she approached, revealing the long flight of stairs below. Someday, they had to invent something that meant she didn’t[ _]have to go up and down thirty three flights of stairs every day. Either that or she would end up with bloody feet to match her bloody nose.
She leapt quickly down the spiral staircase. She was sixteen, so she lived alone on the thirty third floor, her Raisers having long since completed their job assignment. It was good, it meant no unnecessary attachments, nothing to distract her from her work in the Drum. She exited the building and joined the throngs of people flooding the main street. It was brighter than normal this morning and she squinted against the glare of the sun. Her friends in the Guardians had told her that beyond the Skylands, the sun shone so brightly you could hardly see, although she was not ready to believe them. The Pulse in her mind skipped a beat and before her ears even heard it she knew news was coming. Above her, the air crackled as a voice reverberated through it, bouncing off the skyscrapers on either side of the wide street.
“Thorndike was the victim of another terrorist attack last night,” it announced. “Three are dead, including two Guardians and one civilian. Losses amount to 1,000 Gold in damages and one power shard. The Sky will never fall again.” The message ended. Around her, Sybil felt the collective mood of the crowd change to one of indignant rage. The Future Storm’s attacks were getting worse. This was the third one in a month. She did not understand the Earthlanders; their attacks always killed innocents. How could they think it worth it? How could they not understand the vital work of the Arrival?
Making her way quickly through the crowd, Sybil made for the closest Board platform. The queue stretched down the wooden steps and Sybil waited patiently behind an old Guardian for her turn. She had heard the Boards had gotten so popular they were even considering drafting the Less Fortunate and the Beggars into powering them. But they were powered by having a string of people using the Pulse to support them. There was one every hundred meters or so and drafting in the lower ranks would probably wind up making them lethal.
The queue before her melted away and it wasn’t long before she was next. She stepped calmly on to the metal plate, marvelling as it rose below her, but showing no trace of emotion. Students of the Drum did not show emotion. That could only be done if you were a Guardian, Less Fortunate or some other lower rank, in which case you didn’t know any better, or by a Pulse-Master, in which case you knew exactly when and to what intensity emotion was called for. Below her, the Island of Tommen passed by slowly, the Board easily avoiding the crowds that plagued the entrance to the Drum. Within minutes, its domed top came into view, gleaming in the sunlight. It was beautiful in the morning, its bronze roof and white plastered walls a perfect contrast to the hundreds of identical skyscrapers on every other square inch of land.
The Board clattered to the ground rather ungraciously as it reached the huge wooden doors that led into it and Sybil stumbled slightly before catching herself. She shot an irritated look at the group of Fortunate supporting the Board and they glanced back apologetically. Ok, sometimes she showed emotion.
She stepped through the huge doors and the cold air enveloped her. She was running late, she could feel it. As if to confirm her fears, a short, sharp ringing sang through the halls. That was the bell for her first class, a class which lay on the other side of the Drum. What a great start to the day. She began to pick up her pace, practically sprinting down the long hallway which stretched from one end of the Drum to the other. About three quarters of the way, she darted leftwards, up a short staircase and towards the third room on her right.
Outside the door, she took a deep breath, trying to compose herself. Even here she could hear her teacher’s excited, enigmatic voice:
“Before the War on Time, no, that’s not it, after, yes after, no wait during, yes during the War on Time there was huge damage to the-” he broke off as Sybil turned the handle and entered. He glanced up disapprovingly, his short, frazzled beard shaking as he did so. Sybil closed the wooden door softly behind her and chose a seat in the back row, trying to ignore the stares of her classmates. Students were never late in the Drum. It showed disrespect. Ok, Students were rarely late in the Drum.
Her chair screeched noisily on the smooth timber as she took her seat, but Master Smith was already continuing where he had left off. “Huge devastation to the timeline, there was,” he continued. “Massive. That’s why it is called the War on Time, not the War for Time or War of Time or some other such derivative. No, by the end of it no one nation was fighting for a particular vision of reality, no, they were fighting for reality itself. The Seers, you see, had grown too powerful, once they’d learned to manipulate the timeline, and before anyone knew it, everything was falling apart. Families were flung to separate corners of the globe, millions perished and whole nations disappeared overnight. Literally overnight,” he threw his hands up in the air in excitement. “Entire nations destroyed and new ones born and by the end of it no one really knew who owned what or where. That was when the real fun started.” Pivoting on one foot, he span towards the blackboard and began writing down figures furiously. Around her, Sybil watched her classmates reach for pen and paper. Sybil didn’t bother. Students were only examined in five out of eight subjects of their own choosing and she wasn’t much for theory. Instead, she just listened and let the figures wash over her.
“Twenty-two separate border wars,” continued Master Smith excitedly. “Twenty-two! Of course there could have been more, nobody really knows, indeed if any one individual Seer had done anything different we could still be embroiled in war, but of course it’s hard to know, and, by the end of it, the population of most of the world’s nations from Babel to Coral had fallen by about half. All of them!” He wagged his finger insistently at the class. “All of them! Killed by the Seers. And so it had to be done you see, the Great Silence. They had to be stopped, never mind all the needless death, there wouldn’t have been any reality left if they’d kept going. And so they were stopped, most were killed of course, but that became so barbaric that eventually it was realised that they couldn’t very well prophesy without their tongues so they were simply taken instead. And!” He waved his hands in excitement, beaming at the class. “If you’re very lucky, one day you may even see some of these tongues, preserved forever in the Earthland city of Ekriam! They hang from the ceiling of a great Temple there, forever frozen in time by the power of one of the last Seers.”
“Now!” he shouted, changing tack and pacing towards the far corner of the room. Here he pointed at a huge, ancient map. “This map, very ancient, very old you see, shows how the Earthlands used to look before the Seers were Silenced. But, of course, as we all know, once the Seers were destroyed the Wyverns came and, with them, the Skylands, to provide a select worthy group an escape from the filth of the Earthlands, which is, incidentally, why there has never, not once, been a Seer born on the Skylands. The Earthlanders, of course, were jealous. Never happy they aren’t and they destroyed the first Island, Carthos, and this of course triggered the Fallen War, which we won, of course, and this brings me to the topic of today’s lesson: why Carthos fell.”
The rest of the lesson was taken up with detailed descriptions of the mineral content of the former Island of Carthos, what had been learned from its destruction, the symbolism behind the memorial in the Earthlands, how many had perished… the details were endless.
“The real problem,” concluded the Pulse-Master. “Was our trust in the Earthlanders. The Island of Carthos held our biggest Power Shard mines and many of them were controlled entirely by free Earthlanders or those who had illegally travelled here. They used this fact to dig too deep into the mines, far too deeply, completely bypassing the normal safety limits and draining the Island of the power it needed to stay afloat. Each Power Shard, you see, contains some of this energy, remove too much of them and BOOM!” he jumped up suddenly, spreading his arms and legs into a star shape. “And the Earthlanders did so. Doubtless they thought themselves martyrs or some other filthy notion, whatever their reasons-“
The bell rang again, cutting him off. The elderly Pulse-Master looked up in irritation.
“I guess we’ll cover it in the next lesson so,” he muttered. “I will see you tomorrow.”
Sybil got up to leave, but before she could, Master Smith beckoned her towards the front of the class with one crooked finger. The rest of the Students didn’t make eye contact and filed out until she and the old Pulse-Master were alone.
“You were late,” her teacher stated flatly.
“I apologise Master Smith-” she began, but the Pulse-Master raised one hand, silencing her.
“If it happens again, I will lock you up with Hesther for an hour. Now go.”
Sybil shuddered unconsciously and tried not to show her dismay. Students did not show emotion. Turning away, she strode quickly from the room. She had five more classes today and she was not going to be late for another one.
Her next class was Pulse Observation, which Sybil hated in a very non-emotive way. The Master was a young one, who had only just graduated and clearly had no desire, nor any ability, to teach. He spent the first half of the class going on about his own research into the effects of the Pulse on different types of Orock over time and Sybil fought to stay awake throughout. She understood the importance of the substance- almost every building in the Skylands was built from it- but she didn’t particularly care how fast it decomposed when exposed to different degrees of Pulse generated humidity. The second half of the class was no better and Sybil practically staggered out of the room when it was over.
Outside, she made her way to her favourite class: Higher Level Destruction. The class was located in the training grounds, rather than within the Drum itself, and Sybil could feel the excitement building within her as she made her way towards it. She liked destroying stuff – she was good at it and it was very satisfying. She was one of the first to arrive and she stood impatiently in the middle of the clearing, waiting for the others to file in. It was bright outside, away from the shadows of the skyscrapers and Sybil enjoyed the warmth the sunshine leant her body. On the wind, she could smell smoke emanating from the charred remains of the last training session. In one corner of the clearing lay eight mysterious cages, each covered with a brown canvas cloth. This was more like it.
“We are moving beyond simple binding and fire based techniques today,” the Master began, a plump middle aged woman with scorch marks on her short, green dress. It was probably the most inappropriate thing to wear to a class on Higher Level Destruction, but that was Master Sooth – she lived for inappropriateness. “Today we will be learning some basic punishment methods.” Behind her, the cages began to shake noisily, a familiar squawk emanating from them. Stepping towards them, Master Sooth pulled off the canvas covering to reveal eight Wyverns, each crammed into a separate cage, their eyes panicked and crazed.
“You might think the area you are most likely to use these techniques would be in interrogation, but that is not actually the case,” continued Master Sooth, wagging a finger at them as if they had suggested it. “In fact, these techniques can only be used on Wyverns as human minds are strangely closed to such attacks.” Beside her, the Wyverns collectively hissed at the Master, some even reaching crystal claws through the cage, vainly trying to reach her.
“Wyvern’s are fiercely intelligent creatures,” the Master continued, ignoring them. “And they are not tamed easily. But they are a crucial part of the Arrival, without them we would be blind. Not to mention several miles too high. We have tried feeding them well, we have tried housing them in palaces, we have even tried giving them a measure of freedom- but they do not seem to respond to kindness. Indeed, they are more likely to fling a kind Pulse-Master to their death. They are treacherous creatures. They do not respond to direct pain either- we have tried it. You can beat them, you can poison them, you can even set them on fire- they will be no more obedient to you and, when the moment comes, when you need to trust them most, they will abandon you. Then we developed these punishment techniques.”
The low beat of the Pulse rose for a second and Sybil watched as the Wyvern’s instantly cringed away from the edges of the cages, backing into a corner and shielding their faces with their wings.
“These are some of the most advanced techniques you will ever learn in Pulse Destruction,” Master Sooth continued, her face impassive. “You are not simply destroying physical matter, but a mind. Such techniques vary from inflicting imaginary pain…” Behind her, one of the Wyverns suddenly began to convulse, its mouth opening as it squawked in agony. “…to creating living nightmares…” Another one of the Wyverns suddenly began screaming, its crystal body straining against the cage, its talons crashing and twisting against the bars as it flung itself against it in a panic. The Pulse-Master turned to the third Wyvern in the row of cages. “…to creating false memories…” The Pulse surged in Sybil’s ears for a second and then fell again, as before her the Wyvern collapsed to the floor of the cage in despair, its eyes broken, its body seeming to almost melt away before her eyes.
“By far the most effective method, however, is the removal of memories,” concluded the Pulse-Master. “And it is this that we shall focus on today. Any another punishment, though more complex, is just as crude as the threat of a physical beating. The punishment may last a moment, but the promise of release will outweigh this cost for most Wyverns, no matter how well trained. The threat of memory loss, however, is different. The beasts know that you can take this from them no matter how fast they try to shake you off during the Arrival and most will do anything to avoid the pain of forgetting who they are. So,” Master Sooth clapped her hands, beaming at the class. “Who would like to start?”
Sybil felt a shiver of revulsion run down her spine. The idea of destroying someone’s identity…
“Sybil,” Master Sooth called, interrupting her brooding thoughts. “You are usually very adept in this class. Would you like to try first?”
Sybil felt herself nod and step forwards. It was an automatic, instinctual reaction and she cursed her body for betraying her. In a very silent, non-emotive way of course. Master Sooth beamed at her.
“This is one of the most complicated techniques you will ever learn,” she told her. “Which is why only Students and Arrival trained Guardians are taught it. Now, follow my beat.” Sybil felt the Pulse-Master’s beat rise, marvelling at how she subtly accentuated the sound so it would be easier for all of the Students to follow. Soon, it was thundering in her ears, displacing all other sound and dulling her other senses. There was nothing but the beat. In front of her, the Pulse-Master gradually changed the flow of it, directing it towards the fourth Wyvern in the cage, the beat quieting, but speeding up. Sybil could feel the power move through the air like a thick treacle, bellying its rapid tempo. Before her eyes, there was a sudden flicker of light and then abruptly the beat disappeared. Sybil stared. The Pulse never just stopped. In front of her, Master Sooth studied her expression.
“Embrace the Pulse,” she commanded and Sybil obeyed, allowing it to fill her own mind, rather than listening to the Master’s beat. “You cannot hear my Pulse,” she continued, “because it no longer exists in this reality. Instead, it now resides within the Wyvern’s mind, where I can manipulate it as I see fit. This is the first step for any punishment technique which involves psychological destruction. Now, follow it inside this creature’s mind.”
Sybil obeyed, inexpertly trying to copy the beat of the Pulse she had witnessed only moments before. Sweat dripped down her forehead as she concentrated furiously. Within moments she had caught the beat, and she directed it quickly at the Wyvern’s mind, plunging towards what seemed like a bright, endless tunnel. She dived deeper inside, her ears listening for the familiar sound of the Master’s Pulse. Suddenly, a burning pain seared through her and she staggered back, feeling her Pulse reflecting away from the Wyvern and dissipating in the air. Gradually, the beat faded and Sybil fell to the ground in pain, clutching her head and gasping for breath.
The Pulse-Master looked sternly down at her. “That was sloppy Sybil. You completely misguided the direction of the beat. For these advanced techniques, simple things like volume and tempo are not sufficient. You must consider direction and entry points. If you get it wrong, you’ll just make it easy for the Wyvern to fight back. Try again.”
The rest of the afternoon was spent practicing the technique and an hour later six of them had managed to enter the Wyvern’s mind for at least a moment- Sybil included. As the bell rang, Master Sooth sighed in frustration. “Well, I guess one class would have been too much to hope for. We will get to the actual punishment at a later date. Goodbye.”
As the class filed out, Sybil could not help but look back in pity at the Wyverns who stood trapped in the tiny cages. She hoped they had some respite before the next training session. ‘Pitying the Wyverns is dangerous’, she rebuked herself. ‘They are treacherous creatures.’
Her next few classes went by in a blur: Advanced Healing with Master Yuki, Higher Level Construction with Master Tenmen and Preparation with Master Baker. It was evening as Sybil slowly made her way home, exhausted. Wearily, she stepped on to a Board. She didn’t even glance at the groups of Fortunate controlling it as the metal plate shuddered from group to group across the open air. Her head felt like it was about to explode. The Healing Class had really pushed her, there were just so many details to remember when putting somebody back together. It was far easier to just blow them up.
She felt something wet on her lips and she knew people were staring at her. She wiped the blood away with one sleeve. She tried to ignore their questioning looks as she stumbled from the Board platform towards her home. She tried to ignore her own questions. Did Seers bleed like this? Her head throbbed like there was someone drilling into it. She stopped to lean against one of the buildings, allowing her hand to sink into it. She didn’t know what the nosebleeds meant. She didn’t know anyone else who’d ever had them. No one in the Skylands anyway… But her birth-mother had come from the Earthlands, one of the last before the new immigration laws had come in. The Drum had almost refused to accept Sybil as a result and she’d had to work twice as hard for her place. She ducked into a nearby alleyway, trying to get a hold of herself. Spots danced in front of her eyes and she felt her mouth go suddenly dry. Her head swam with nausea. The blood dripped from her nose, down her lip, caressing the curve of her chin. It hit the ground before she could catch it. Her head exploded in pain, her vision blurring and the world spinning around her.
“No…” she croaked. She was almost home. She knew she was. Her shoulder crashed against the Orock of the alley as her body collapsed below her. Around her, the world went black.
Hours later she awoke surprisingly comfortable, her body having curved into the smooth Orock of the building behind her. Sitting up slightly, she let her eyes adjust to the dim evening air. Groaning, she stood up and stretched. She could still feel a smear of sticky blood on her face and she groaned louder. She must look a state. She was surprised no one had alerted the Guardians, although they had enough to be doing without worrying about passed out Students. Grimacing, she stepped out of the alleyway and onto the main road back to her building. That’s when she saw him. His clothes were strange, but she recognised them instantly from Preparation: long woollen robes, clearly handmade. Those were the clothes of an Earthlander. Without a second thought, she allowed the sound of the Pulse to grow within her mind and flung it towards his head.
“Be still, Earthlander!” A girl’s voice met Elijah’s ears as he struggled to make sense of the world that was now spinning around him.
“What the…” he managed, as he stumbled to his feet, clutching his head in pain.
“I said be still, Earthlander!” the voice repeated and Elijah looked up at the girl in front of him. She had short, brown hair atop a curved jaw that would have been pretty if it wasn’t covered in blood. Not to mention the fact she was trying to grievously injure him.
Elijah shook his head experimentally, glad to find the action didn’t particularly hurt. The Skylander’s buildings might have been built with all the architectural creativity of a sparrow who hasn’t quite figured out what a nest is yet, but at least they were well padded. Looking up at his captor, he felt a strange confidence enter him. He’d survived worse than this girl today, she wasn’t worth getting scared over. Besides he had to get to Truth before something happened to her. He hadn’t time to be scared.
“I should warn you,” he said, shuffling to his feet and waving his hands in what he hoped was a mysterious fashion. “That your Pulse does not scare me. I have powers, Skylander. I can make it so that you were never born.” He drew himself up to what was, in fairness, an impressive height when he wasn’t slouching and deepened his voice in as dramatic a fashion as he could manage. “All of time kneels before me.”
The Skylander paled slightly. Elijah decided to press home his advantage. “I am a Seer!” he roared. “The world flees from my presence!” And then something hard smashed against the side of his head.
“Get down on the ground, Earthlander,” commanded the girl. “Or so help me, I’ll Silence you right now.”
Elijah stared at the girl. He was beginning to get the feeling that she was less intimidated than he had thought. Instead, an intense look of concentration crossed his captor’s face. Dread seized him. That face did not look good, even putting the blood to one side. She must be a Pulse-Master or something, he guessed, and he did not like the way things were going. That much concentration meant bad things. Suddenly, a high pitched wailing blasted into Elijah’s ears. It wasn’t as bad as the Siren, but it was pretty close. Elijah groaned, covering his ears with both hands. The girl smiled victoriously.
“Now every Guardian knows exactly where you are.”
“Right then,” shot back Elijah as he struggled to his feet. “I guess I’d better be going.” He sprinted the opposite way down the alley. And was immediately flung into the wall. He should have learnt by now.
“You’ll stay here,” the girl snarled.
Elijah couldn’t even scream when the Guardians entered the building where he was being held captive. Somehow, the girl was using the Pulse to paralyse every muscle in his body – including his tongue. He looked in horror at the two chainmail clad Guardians as they marched in, their eyes cold. Together, they took him off the wall and strung him between them, carrying him to a large metal plate. The four of them stepped on to the strange device and together they flew through the air towards a large, square building they called the Testing Centre. Part of Elijah was happy – this was all part of the plan. This was where they would have taken Truth. A larger, far more dominant part of him, didn’t want to go anywhere near the place the burly Guardians were dragging him along to. The wind whipped around them and Elijah shook uncontrollably, although more from fear than anything else. He wished he could say he was only scared for Truth.
The Testing Centre itself was a huge square building with large metal doors. It had a peaked metal roof atop it which was brown with age. Inside, it was dark and there was a constant, horrific meld of screaming and crying. The air stank of sweat and rust. His eyes adjusted to the darkness quickly and he began to make out the shapes of people. Just over twenty feet away, dozens of men and women were chained to a wall, their faces contorted in terror. Elijah’s shaking intensified, but he was helpless to resist as the Guardians carried him to the wall, clamping his arms and feet to the dark, limestone block. Sweat flew from every pore on his body and his eyes darted madly around the bare room, one searching for Truth and the other searching for a way out. Neither were forthcoming. He tried to struggle, to bite, to do anything, but it was no good as the girl who had captured him was doing her usual Pulse trick. He couldn’t move an inch. It was only when the last metal bond was secured to his limbs that he was even able to scream.
“Let me out of here!” he shouted, his body straining against the restraints, but not even causing them to creak. “I’m innocent, I swear, please I didn’t mean to come up to your fancy special island! This is all a big misunderstanding, come on!!”
“He admitted it to me,” said the girl with all the feeling of a rock. “He said he was a Seer.”
“I was only joking!” shouted Elijah pathetically, but his words were consumed by the roar of dozens of men and women chained to either side of him, half of them vowing vengeance, the others begging for mercy. At that moment, Elijah would have settled for anything that didn’t leave him strapped to a wall in something as ominous sounding as a ‘Testing Centre’. Then the wall began to move. There was a clank and a whirr and, in an instant, Elijah felt his whole body lurch to his left. His stomach did a backflip.
“What was that??” he shouted breathlessly, but the Guardians and the girl had already turned their backs on him. Elijah watched in despair as they left the centre, metal doors clanging shut behind them and stealing the light from the room.
“What in the name of anything that will get me out of here is going on?!” he screamed, to no one in particular.
“It’s testing for Seers,” a voice answered him, coming from Elijah’s left. “Why I remember before the War on Time, the same thing used to be done. Course, back in the good old days, they didn’t have Wyverns to do it and they didn’t just take our tongues when they found one. No, they’d ship us off to Ekriam. That’s where they taught us. They did good salad in Ekriam, far as I remember.”
Elijah looked to his left. Out of the far corner of his eye, he could see an old man fastened to the wall next to him. He had a short beard and tangled white hair and wore a grey robe which might once also have been white. He was smiling, an action which Elijah felt was entirely inappropriate given the circumstances.
“Who are you?” Elijah asked. “Have you seen a girl, nine years old, black hair, blue eyes?”
“Oh well, that’s a good question,” the old, weary sounding voice answered. “Used to be I could answer that question, but there you go. What you going to do?”
“You haven’t seen her?” asked Elijah, his heart sinking.
“Little girl, black hair, blue eyes?” the voice answered. “Of course I’ve seen her. Not many children in this here Testing Centre in case you hadn’t noticed. No real point in testing them, you wouldn’t know if they’re a Seer for another few years anyway. No, I was referring to the far more difficult question of who I am. Now that’s a question worth asking, let’s see if we can puzzle it out…”
“Where is she?!” screamed Elijah, trying to make out the old man’s answers over the din of the other prisoners.
“Hmm? Oh. She’s already been through the whole process and out the other end. She’s long gone.”
Around Elijah there was suddenly a clank and a whirr and he braced himself as the wall suddenly shifted left again. It’s OK, Elijah thought to himself. She’s still alive. You can find her. You can get her back. Which left one important question:
“What’s happened to her?” he shouted.
In the darkness the old man seemed to shrug. It was a rare skill to be able to shrug when you’re clamped to a wall. “We, as you may have noticed, are all strapped to this moving wall here. Eventually we will be moved past a Wyvern. She’s already done this bit, so she’ll be in the mines now. That’s where they send everyone after testing. Same as me and you. After they cut out your tongue first of course.”
Elijah’s eyes bulged. “How do you know I’m a Seer??” he asked in a panicked whisper.
“Sorry, didn’t quite catch that,” muttered the voice.
Elijah wanted to scream in frustration. Well, they couldn’t do anything worse to him. “How do you know I’m a Seer?!” he shouted, over the din. And suddenly the whole centre went quiet. Then someone screamed. Then another one and another one.
“Help me!” A women shouted, and then dozens of others took up the call, their screams piercing Elijah’s ears: “There’s one here!! Help!!”
They were about to be enslaved in the mines and they were worried about who they were going to be chained up with.
“The priorities of some people…” muttered Elijah bitterly.
The old man, however, seemed to be oblivious to the noise. He continued in the same voice.
“Oh, you always know a fellow Seer,” he said, matter-of-factly.
“There’s two of them!” someone shouted and suddenly hysteria engulfed the centre, dozens of prisoners convulsing against their restraints, screaming to be freed.
“I don’t know why they bother,” continued the old voice in the same tone. “This whole place is soundproofed.”
“Can you get us out of here?!” Elijah shouted at the old man, trying to ignore the screams.
“Oh no, no, not at all,” answered the voice. “No, no, no. Maybe a couple of decades ago. Maybe then. But not now. Oh no.”
Elijah felt like joining the rest in their screams of despair.
“You could though,” the voice added, almost as an afterthought.
“Me???” shouted Elijah incredulously.
“You’re a Seer,” sighed the old man, his voice barely audible over the screams of the other prisoners. “Use the raw timeline. You should know that. Sure, we’ve known how to do that for over a millennia, well before we learned how to manipulate it or anything like that. Those were the days of real nations, none of that rubbish you have these days…”
Elijah started. Just how old was this guy? He’d figure that out later. There were one or two slightly more pressing matters now. “How do I do that?” He shouted.
“Open your eyes young Seer, open your eyes!!”
Elijah shuddered. The voice knew what he was. After so long hiding, hearing it out in the open made bile rise in his throat.
The old man continued, oblivious to Elijah’s feelings. “All Seers have them. Those inner eyes that let us see the timeline. That single spark that lets you see all of time, unfolded in front of you, all the maybes, all the possibilities, all the endless choices…”
Elijah opened his eyes as wide as he could, straining to see something in the air. This was ridiculous. Suddenly, the wall shuddered again and Elijah lurched left. A small flash of light appeared on the very edge of his peripheral vision and dread seized him. He was coming closer to the Wyvern.
The old man tutted beside him. “Don’t [_try _]to see it. Being a Seer… it’s not something to be learned, its natural, normal, just do whatever comes naturally.”
Elijah screamed. “That’s bloody easy for you to say!” he shouted. “You’re not the one about to have your tongue cut out! If it was that damn easy do you not think they’d keep one or two more Guardians here??”
The old man laughed. “Ha! Guardians as if they could do anything to stop you… they haven’t found a Seer since this building was built. Run out of us to test as soon as they built the Testing Centre… it’s kind of ironic really…”
Elijah stopped listening. He had about three minutes before the wall moved on again and he lit up like a firework. Instead, he concentrated. Do whatever comes naturally. He tried to relax, but the muscles in his arms and legs couldn’t help but strain against the restraints.
Beside him, the old man laughed again. “You’re trying to relax aren’t you? I spent months at that, meditating, looking into candles… spent most of the time asleep to be honest with you… those were the best months of my life…”
Elijah screamed again, a loud guttural scream of fear and frustration and rage. And then something flashed in front of his eyes. Long and silvery, like nothing he had ever seen.
“So frustration comes naturally to you?” the old man said beside him. “Well, that’s just kind of sad really…”
But Elijah wasn’t listening. All around him the voices of dozens of prisoners had reached a new, wailing crescendo, but he wasn’t listening to that either. The old man was right. He could see it. He could even hear it, the trickling sands of time, each grain falling a drum beat in his ears. It had been there since his father died. He knew that now. Something inside him had broken when the Skylands had ripped Greg away from him. As if this new power had known that there was no longer any need to be hidden, that there was no longer any need to be afraid.
Before his eyes, a thousand strings suddenly erupted into the air, each a thousand different colours, each flickering and moving like a thousand paintings rolled into one. Elijah stared. It was wondrous. He didn’t know how he hadn’t seen them before. They made up everything, from the iron that chained him to the wall to the very atoms of the air. Everywhere he looked the multi-coloured strings of the timeline flowed. And then he was gone.
Elijah had the now familiar sensation that he was somewhere where he shouldn’t be. He was in a cold stone room, formed of misshapen rocks that seemed to have been made into a room with four walls and a ceiling only through blind luck. Here and there, tapestries hung from the walls in a desperate effort to lend the room some warmth. Elijah had the vague feeling that he was supposed to be doing something important, he just couldn’t quite recall what. In front of him was a large oaken table surrounded by old, bearded men. One of them was wearing a shiny gold hat.
“We can’t allow Aubrey to take Coral, they’ll control the whole north coast then.” The king was saying. “They already have too many Seers. If they get help from the Outsiders too, they will grow too powerful to be contained.”
In front of the six men was a map showing the boundary between Prazna, Coral and Aubrey. The map showed the forces of Prazna in neat little battalions with little yellow sigils to mark them out. The forces of Coral were clustered on its borders and those of Aubrey were scattered across the map, as if someone had just thrown the little flags in the air and hoped for the best.
“We cannot stop them,” another voice argued. “They have whole legions with the gift. Even if we change the timeline again, there’s no guarantee things will play out as we want them to.”
“We have to try, it worked for a while last time – ,” the king started to say before blood erupted from his mouth. Elijah blinked. He couldn’t decide which was more surprising – hearing the powers of a Seer being described as a ‘gift’ or the 6 feet of metal protruding from his royal majesty’s head. In an instant, an army was standing in the room, hacking at the inhabitants.
“They have a Tunnel!” someone screamed and suddenly the door burst open, guards streaming in. Elijah flinched as they ran through him. To his left, a black portal hung, with still more people pouring through it.
“Stay in formation!” the leader of the attacking forces roared. “Seers to the back! Watch for any signs of timeline manipulation!”
The army swarmed from the Tunnel into the room, easily dispatching of the few guards that rushed inwards. “Take out the wall!” roared the commander.
And suddenly, before Elijah’s eyes half a wall began to crumble into dust. Above his head, the ceiling began to shake. The army marched through into an open courtyard and were met with a barrage of hasty arrows. “Shield formation!” The cry went out. Several white robed Seers scurried to the outside of the group, throwing what looked like dinner plate shaped rainbows through the air. The arrows disintegrated as soon as they touched them. “Forward!”
Elijah followed the invading army, trying to avoid the blood stained bodies of the room’s former owners. He stepped out into an empty, cloudless sky. He knew where he was now. Or rather he knew when he was. This was the War on Time, long before the Skylands were ever born. Around him the very fabric of reality seemed distorted. The rainbow colours of the timeline seemed to pale with the strain of it. He turned and looked into the black eyes of the king. The thought “wait he was dead a minute ago” didn’t seem to do justice to the impossibility he was seeing. In the war chamber were suddenly dozens of bearded old men, multiple copies of each of them screaming at their attackers, their eyes rolling with madness.
“There’s been a distortion!” the commander roared. “Close the Breach!” The Seers in the group turned back towards the war chamber, only to be instantly cut down in a hailstorm of arrows. Behind Elijah, the world cracked and warped, becoming a black hole, sucking in the soldiers in the war chamber. There was an ear piercing scream and then a blast of energy and every soldier in the room disappeared. The tapestries barely looked disturbed. The only thing that remained changed was the hole in the wall. And out of that hole came a sea of darkness. It oozed across the ground, consuming all it touched, its depths a colour darker than black. Elijah edged away from it, passing through soldiers and Seers as he went. He didn’t know why, but he knew that that darkness was not something he wanted to be involved in. The rainbow colours of the timeline flickered and died as it passed them, leaving nothing in its place. It was not just pure darkness. Even darkness retreats beneath light. This wasn’t just the absence of light, this was the absence of everything. And it oozed forward like a flood, consuming the corpses of fallen Seers and soldiers as it went. The remaining attackers of the city began to flee, but were cut down mercilessly by the defenders atop the wall. The darkness spread as it moved, consuming the lower bricks in the walls and causing those atop to slowly buckle and crumble. The city’s defenders ran for cover, screaming for Seers to stop the Breach. Elijah had his back against the furthest wall he could get to and decided that wasn’t quite far enough. He turned and ran straight through it. Behind him, screams of terror were abruptly silenced as the Breach continued its relentless march.
Elijah just kept running, flinging himself through people and homes. Every time he looked back, the darkness just seemed to have grown bigger. Within minutes, it had swallowed half the city in its grasp and still it went. Half-hearted sparks of the timeline fizzled into the air and were abruptly extinguished. Elijah just kept running straight on, his body struggling with the urge to flee versus the urge not to run head first into solid walls. Behind him, those same walls collapsed beneath the encroaching darkness. It had not grown in depth. It was still paper thin, scarcely more than a puddle, but a puddle which was now miles across, its thin base eating through everything it touched. And it was moving faster. Elijah shut his eyes and ran, trying to imagine that he was running through a peaceful green field and trying his very best to block out the screams from behind him.
Elijah wasn’t sure how long he had run for, but when he opened his eyes again he really was standing in a green field. It was the neighing of horses which had alerted him. Not to mention the several thousand people who stood atop them, watching grimly. Behind him, the last of the city’s walls crumbled into the darkness. A few people who had survived the onslaught mingled just outside it. Where a great city had once stood there was now only a thin black ooze. It lay there, as still as a mountain, defying all expectations. There was not a ripple on its surface; there was nothing to give it substance. It was simply nothing.
Elijah looked up into the grim faces of the soldiers surrounding him, the attacking army he realised now, recognising the same red sigils the first attackers had worn. And he realised with a cold certainty that this was exactly what they had wanted.
Elijah opened his eyes and he knew that he had power. He could feel it, burning inside him, an incandescent flame inside the darkness of the Testing Centre. His mouth was dry and he had the vague sensation that he had been talking. He stared at the main door to the testing centre forming the strands of the timeline that flowed through it to his will. Then suddenly it began to rust, flakes of the metal falling to the ground faster than he could see. Then, with a crash, it collapsed, sending a brown cloud into the air that dissipated almost as soon as it appeared. Elijah strained his neck, pulling to his right against the force of the metal bonds. His neck felt like it was going to break. He caught a glimpse of the bond holding his arm and focused all his energy on it. It rusted and fell away in seconds. One arm free, his body was no longer pinned so tightly to the wall and he freed his right leg with ease. Then the wall shuddered and he lurched left. His arms exploded into light, the brightness shining everywhere, but the wall’s movement slammed the right half of his body back against it. His back screamed in pain and his head slammed against the wall, throwing spots in front of his eyes. To his right, the woman who had begun the screaming met his gaze. She stared at him in terror and Elijah hated her for it. Before he even knew what was happening, he felt the power leave him.
“No!” he shouted as the woman was suddenly consumed before his eyes. Her body quickly began to whither, her flesh wrinkling up before Elijah could even think to stop it. Elijah stared at what was left. She couldn’t have been older than her thirties a minute ago and now she stood, fragile as paper against the testing centre wall, her skin withered far beyond the confines of normal aging.
“What have you done to me?” she croaked, her breath coming in short, sharp gasps, her brown wool robe clinging to her thin frame.
Elijah felt panic fill him. What had he done? He stood there, half hanging off the wall, despair filling him. They had been right to be afraid. What was he?
Into his jumbled thoughts the old voice spoke quietly. “You can’t change her back. At that age, the process would kill her. You need to get out of here, now.”
Suddenly, the Siren burst through the air, splitting Elijah’s eardrums. The pain lurched him out of his reverie. The old man was right, they were coming for him. Looking quickly to his left he destroyed the other bonds holding him and dropped quickly to the floor, landing awkwardly. He looked back behind him to free the voice, but then snapped his eyes shut. He couldn’t control it. He couldn’t control what he was.
“Oh sure, you go ahead,” the old man said. “Just leave me here to be enslaved, that’s fine, I’ve no problems with that whatsoever. I mean, at least I’ll keep my tongue, not having the power of a Seer anymore and all that, and I’ve heard there’s good work in the mines for people who are too old to lift a pickaxe so I don’t really know what I’m complaining about…”
“I can’t…” Elijah croaked.
“Of course you can!” the old man shouted. “You are truly useless! When I was your age I’d killed dozens of people and did I get all whiney about it? No! Now free me before they decide to take out my tongue just for talking to you!”
In the distance, Elijah began to make out the sound of shouted orders over the wail of the Siren. He was right. They were coming. He looked up and focused the last of his energy on the restraints that held the old man. He felt nauseous as he forced it out, his vision blurring. Within seconds, they had rusted and his fellow prisoner was free. Elijah gasped, falling to his knees and clutching his stomach.
“Well, are you coming or not?” the old man asked, already ahead of him. He moved fast for someone over a hundred years old. “I haven’t seen someone this bad at escaping since the Fall.”
“I want to see him get tested,” said Sybil. “I need to know if he really is one of them.” She’d know if she saw a real one. She felt sure of that. And he just hadn’t seemed threatening… just very scared. Hardly terrorist material.
Sam shrugged. “You know the rules, none are to stay during the Testing. It’s too dangerous to have anyone below a Pulse-Master present and even they only examine them one at a time. Besides, whether he’s a Seer or not the destination’s the same. We can’t have more Earthlanders coming up here, it wouldn’t be safe. The mines are the best place for them.”
“I know the rules,” snapped Sybil. “Let me go to the mines then. Let me see them strap the chain around his neck.”
Sam pondered the request for a moment. “I can understand your need for justice,” he indicated her bloodied face. “But Students may never enter the mines. They have no purpose there.”
He turned away, but Sybil grabbed his wrist, yanking him back. “You outrank me only in this area Sam,” she growled. “Maybe there’s an area where you need help? Wait until I’m a Pulse-Master. I could make life [_very _]easy for you…”
The Guardian shook her grip off, turning away. “The answer is no Sybil.”
But Sybil just yanked his arm back, spinning him back around until he faced her. They were alone in the narrow corridor and she stared at him intensely. “Do it for me Sam,” she said. “For old time’s sake.”
Sam’s forehead creased with worry. There was something about the narrow space and the intensity of her gaze. It reminded him of their childhood. She had always pushed boundaries, whether they needed it or not. And usually that push was more of a shove. It’s what he’d always liked about her. “It will have to be quick,” he relinquished.
The two left the Testing Centre and walked quickly south. The power shard mines were all located on the edge of the islands, close to the Testing Centre and away from the centre of the Pulse. After a short while, they reached the entrance. It was guarded only by one low level Guardian who glowered at them briefly as they approached. He glanced at the crest emblazoned on Sam’s chest, twin swords set across a picture of an island, and then waved them through. He didn’t question Sybil’s presence. If Sam was with her, that was enough.
As soon as they entered the mine, the sun went out, to be replaced by the eerie glow of a shard-powered light bulb. Sybil blinked rapidly, allowing her eyes to adjust to the more muted light. Beneath her feet, the path sloped quickly down, almost vertically, and Sybil struggled to keep her balance on the rocky ground.
“Are you OK?” asked Sam, an amused smile on his lips as he watched her struggle down the path.
“I’m fine,” spat back Sybil, sharper than she had intended. Almost instantly, she slipped on a rock, almost falling flat before Sam caught her wrist with one hand.
“Careful now,” he said.
Sybil snatched her wrist back angrily and picked up her pace, concentrating furiously on keeping her balance on the treacherous ground. As she walked, the sound of pickaxes became louder and louder. After about five minutes walking the sounds became more distinctive, voices and shouts becoming separated from the endless drudgery of steel on stone.After ten minutes, the shouts and voices separated into orders and screams. By the time Sybil reached the bottom she could even hear the beat of the Pulse from the foremen monitoring the slaves.
The mines were filled with countless bodies, with about a dozen tunnels stretching out from a huge cavern. The slaves were lined up at each one, passing dirt back and forth in chain gangs. There was no uniformity in them. Some were tall, lanky men who moved the buckets of dirt with ease. Others were shorter and younger, about her age, and still others were ancient, a miracle given most slaves only survived a year or two in the mines. An old woman stared up at her as she arrived, haggard eyes accusing in a lined and withered face. Sybil tried to ignore her. The woman wouldn’t stop looking however, her eyes becoming more and more intense as she stared. The beat of the Pulse surged briefly in Sybil’s mind and the woman opened her mouth to scream, but no sound came out. Sybil stared in horror at the emptiness in her mouth where her tongue should have been. She must have been here for years.
“Get back to work!” shouted a foreman. The beat of the Pulse rose again and the woman dropped her gaze away from Sybil, her shoulders slumped in pain.
“The testing should be in another fifteen minutes,” stated Sam emotionlessly. “They’ll bring them in to be chained then.”
Sybil nodded, staring at the slaves. Every so often, a free miner moved among them, but the slaves dominated the cavern.
“Why are there so many?” she asked.
Sam shrugged. “That’s obvious Sybil. There’s always more Earthlanders trying to sneak into the Skylands. Besides, we need the extra labour to keep the mines efficient. It’d be too expensive if they were all free.”
“I know that,” stuttered Sybil, trying to keep her voice confident, but unable to keep her eyes off the seething mass of flesh and chains. “But there are restrictions, I mean, since the Fall?”
Sam nodded. “Yes, a minimum of four tenths must be free men or Skylanders. They are working the outer edges. It’s more efficient to keep the slaves here, passing buckets. Most are not strong enough for digging.”
Sybil nodded. Before her eyes, a girl no older than nine years old fell to her knees beneath the weight of a bucket. She had black hair and blue eyes. Sybil breathed heavily, watching as she stumbled to her feet, only to fall again. It felt hot in the cavern suddenly, the walls seeming to close in on her. It felt like hours since she had last seen the sky. Sybil shook her head, trying to clear it. In front of her, a pile of buckets was building up behind the girl. She was blocking the traffic.
‘It could be me’, she realised abruptly. She shook her head, dispelling the thought. That was ridiculous. Only Earthlanders could be imprisoned in the mines.
‘But what if they found out?’ she closed her eyes tightly. No. There was nothing to find out. She was no Seer. She had a few nosebleeds that was all. There were no Seers in the Skylands. They were pure, perfect. It could not happen. Had never happened.
‘Then why is your nose bleeding?’ the voice asked. Sybil started, pulling a sleeve across her face. But there was nothing there. She breathed in deeply, inhaling the stench of sweat from the slaves. There was nothing there. She had nosebleeds, headaches, that was it. There was nothing more behind it, could not be anything more behind it. In her ears, the beat of the Pulse rose and she watched as a foreman punished the girl for allowing the pile to build up behind her. The sound of pickaxes got louder in the cavern. The walls seemed to move closer. The stench of sweat became deeper. Sybil began breathing rapidly, short, quick breathes. She could feel sweat on her palms.
“Are you all right?” asked Sam beside her, worry in his eyes. Sybil straightened quickly, only now realising she was bent over double.
“Just a bit claustrophobic,” she stammered.
“Well your catch should be here any minute now,” Sam said.
“Great,” answered Sybil. Then her eyes met the face of the child. She had fallen again. She heard the Pulse rise and fall as the foreman beat her. She was so young. Sybil had known from birth that the Skylands were superior and that the Earthlanders hated them for it. That made them all dangerous, men, women and children. But something inside her refused to accept the beating of a child. You could work them for the sake of efficiency. You could enslave them to discourage immigration. But she could not think of one good reason to beat them. It was wrong.
“Stop!” she shouted, her voice sounding weak against the sounds of digging. The foreman looked up, a bare chested brute of a man wearing white trousers, cut off at the knees. He saw Sybil and deciding that he must have been imagining what he’d heard, continued on beating the girl. She fell again, her head hitting a rock. A silver pendant slipped out from underneath her brown robe. The foreman stepped forward and snatched it up, easily breaking the silver chain from around the girl’s neck. He eyed the pendant suspiciously. Meanwhile Sybil had had enough talking. She felt the beat of the Pulse rise in her mind and threw it at the side of the foreman’s head.
“What are you doing Sybil?” Sam shouted.
The foreman turned his attention to her, barely phased. He was a big man and Sybil hadn’t hit hard. She didn’t want a fight she just wanted his attention. She pushed herself through the throng of slaves, trying her best to not meet their gaze, aiming for the girl.
“Students aren’t allowed down here,” the foreman snarled, his face a picture of righteous indignation. “Managing the slaves is our job.”
“She’s a child and she’s no use to you dead.” Replied Sybil levelly. The foreman gave a nasty laugh. “She hasn’t been much use alive either has she?”
He kicked the girl in the head who gave a single shriek of pain before going terribly still. Sybil kneeled down beside her. The girl wasn’t breathing. Sybil felt rage fill her. They couldn’t do this! This wasn’t the Earthlands, there was law and order here.
“You’re a murderer,” she said in as level a voice as she could manage. “Sam, arrest this man.”
Sam raised his eyebrows. The foreman just laughed again and jangled the pendant in front of Sybil’s nose. “I am well within my rights little Student. This here was a young little terrorist under my care. Their lives are forfeit as soon as they come down here. And I get to choose when I take them.”
Sybil snatched the pendant out of the air and examined it. Atop the back was inscribed the ancient symbol of the Seers. She relaxed a little then. That was OK then, it was all compliant with the law. There was still order in the Skylands, there was always order. Beside her, the little girl continued to bleed out into the ground. Sybil didn’t look at her. Her death was right. She knew that. It was all compliant with prescribed procedures and yet something within her stirred. Something told her that it was wrong anyway, that maybe the procedures were wrong. She tried to ignore it.
Suddenly in the distance, she heard the sound of the Siren. There was a change in the beat of the Pulse in her mind and a message sounded.
“This is an emergency broadcast: a Seer has escaped from the Testing Centre. All citizens are advised to stay indoors until the threat has been apprehended. All Guardians please be advised: the threat was last seen on route 119.”
Sybil looked at Sam who looked grim. “It looks like your Seer was real after all,” he said. Beside Sybil, the foreman grinned, a twisted expression that was more frightening than any of his beatings. “That’s why I like to get them when they’re young,” he said.
Above ground, Sybil breathed in deeply, letting the cool caress of the wind wash over her, her thoughts a jumble. It was dark, but the Orock in the Skyscrapers glowed faintly, painting the night in an eerie shade of green. She still held the pendant in her hand. She didn’t know why she’d kept it. It was a dangerous relic of a time when the Seers had all but ruled the world. When they had almost destroyed it. She should destroy the pendant. That was the prescribed procedure.
“If you’re quite done defending the rights of terrorists, there’s a Seer still out there,” said Sam pointedly. Sybil shook her head and stuffed the pendant into her pocket. Sam was right. She hadn’t time for this. If she’d caught him once, she could catch him again – before he did any more damage. Together, they turned north-west and began to run towards route 119. The buildings flew past in a blur. Sybil kept her gaze straight ahead, sprinting with quick easy strides. Route 119 was close to the mines and she was guessing that the Seer was using it to make his way towards the edge of the island. If they made it towards the far end fast enough, they could intercept them. Without warning, two figures suddenly hurtled out of an alley. The first knocked into Sam, sending him sprawling and landing in a pile beside him. The second, an old man by the looks of it, just kept running. Sybil concentrated on the Pulse, allowing it to grow in her mind. Then, as he stumbled to his feet, she saw the face of the guy who had knocked over Sam. Her breath caught in her throat.He looked so like the girl in the mine. The same high cheekbones and blue eyes. He was the same age as Sybil. He stared back at her in terror, transfixed. Then the spell broke and he ran, flinging himself away from Sam’s sprawled body.
“Stop him, Sybil!” Sam shouted, but she wasn’t listening. She was back in the mines. She could hear the scream of the slaves, could see the endless chains, could smell the stench of the sweat. She blinked and it was gone. “Sybil!” Sam shouted at her. Quickly, she allowed the sound of the Pulse to wash over her, but it was too late. In the distance, the boy disappeared from sight.
Beside her, Sam struggled to his feet. “What happened there?” he demanded.
“He was too quick,” stuttered Sybil.
“Maybe if your body were encased in lead!” snapped Sam. “What is wrong with you?”
Sybil shook her head and stared at the ground for a moment. “You have no right to speak to me that way,” she muttered after a moment. “You’re a Guardian, nothing more.”
“Sybil, come on, we were friends once.”
Sybil stared at the ground for a minute, her thoughts racing. ‘How could she have let him go?’
“I have to leave, Sam,” she murmured. “I have to… get home… lots to be doing tomorrow…”
“Fine,” answered Sam, throwing his hands up in exasperation.
Suddenly, half a dozen Guardians and a Pulse-Master came running towards them.
“They went that way.” Sybil said, motioning. The Guardians didn’t stop to question them, but just kept running, swords clattering at their waists, intent on the chase.
“See you later, Sam.” Sybil muttered, and then began to walk in the opposite direction, towards home.
Sybil would have screamed if it didn’t display so much emotion. She stepped off the Board platform she had used and then walked the rest of the short way to her home.[_ _]She stamped up the thirty three flights of stairs that led to her apartment. She walked in to her room and stared at herself in the mirror. Half her face was still covered in blood from that insane nosebleed. She felt rage fill her.
‘Her own body was turning against her!’
She turned on the tap to wash it off. The water gushed out and splashed the front of her shirt in a way that just added to her general sense of frustration. She turned it down and leaned on the sink, breathing deeply and watching the water flow down the plughole, its surface glittering in the light of the bulb above her head. She looked back up, staring at her bloodied face in the mirror.
‘What was wrong with her?’ she stared at the face, feeling contempt fill her. [‘Why had she let him go? She was not one of _]them[!’_]
Raising one hand, she curled it into a fist and smashed the image. There was no pain. Glass cut her knuckles and she watched the blood slowly trickle down her wrist. She breathed heavily, gasping for breath. From her nose, she felt blood begin to slowly flow down her lips.
“We need to find Truth first!” shouted Elijah as he and the old man he had rescued bolted through the maze of skyscrapers.
“Are you crazy?” the old Seer shouted back. “They’ll kill you on sight for escaping the Testing Centre! Let’s get out of here first, we can come back for your sister!”
“How are we going to do that?” screamed Elijah, his lungs burning with the effort of holding a conversation whilst running for his life.
“I have friends in the Future Storm,” replied Solomon, who didn’t seem to be having the same problem. “They raid the mines all the time. They’ll help you.”
Elijah bit his lip; he hated the idea of leaving Truth behind and pinning his hopes on the Future Storm wasn’t exactly a comforting thought. Truth must be terrified right now. And if she was in the mines, she wasn’t likely to last that much longer. Conditions were grim in those dark tunnels. But the old man was right, he had a better chance, Truth had a better chance, if he got help. A failed escape attempt would be worse than doing nothing, even if doing nothing felt so much worse.
Elijah breathed in deeply, trying not to let his imagination wander. Dangerous and dark thoughts lurked in the corners of his mind and he didn’t want his imagination to meet them. He tried to concentrate on the horizon.Beyond it was the plain where he had arrived. His breathing was shallow and strained now and his breath spat clouds into the cold night air. They’d been sprinting for almost twenty minutes and it was taking its toll.
Then, suddenly, they burst past the last skyscraper, their feet touching grass. But there was nothing there. The Wyvern Elijah had been praying for had not come back. They were alone on the grassy plain. Above them, the stars were just beginning to pierce the night sky. He gasped for breath, leaning on his knees. Behind him, he could hear the clatter of metal tipped shoes on concrete. They were coming.
“What now? What’s Plan B?” asked the old man.
“Plan B is your job,” panted Elijah. “I came up with plan A.”
“Now you tell me,” the old Seer replied, his head spinning around furiously, searching for an exit. But the only one was the path which the Guardians were now furiously running down. The only other option was off the edge.
“You’ll have to kill them then,” he relinquished. “You should take out the Pulse-Master first, if you can, he’s the real threat.”
“You think I can just turn it on and off like that?!” gasped Elijah, still trying to get his breath back. “You think I’m a light bulb is that it? That it’s all so easy and simple?”
“Well, I was kinda hoping for it.”
The footsteps got louder.
“You know the timeline’s there,” insisted the former prisoner. “It flows through everything just use it!”
Elijah shuddered. He was right, he knew he was. He could see it there, a flicker of rainbow, just at the edge of his vision. All he had to do was reach out and grab it… But the ancient face of the woman in the testing centre was there too, her eyes terrified and accusing. He couldn’t control it. It was too powerful. The Skylands were right – it wasn’t a gift; it was a curse. Suddenly the old man leapt at him, his wiry frame deceptively strong. He grabbed Elijah’s arm, twisting it behind his back in an arm lock.
“I am not going back to that place, because of your fear!” he growled in his ear. “Use the timeline now or your arm is very abruptly going to be relocated to the backside of your head!”
The Seer twisted his arm and Elijah yelped in pain.
The old man began to back away, towards the edge, still holding Elijah in an iron grip.
The Guardians ran towards them, crossing half the plain in seconds. Behind him, Elijah knew they had reached the edge.
“Don’t come any closer!” his captor shouted. “Come an inch closer and I’ll fling him off!”
“You’ll what??” shouted Elijah. The old Seer wrenched his wrist towards his shoulder, sending searing pain soaring through him.
In front of them, the Pulse-Master snorted dismissively. “Take them,” she said.
“Now this may seem a bit unorthodox,” the old man whispered in Elijah’s ear. “But don’t panic.”
“What do you mean? What might seem-” Elijah’s words were snatched away as suddenly the ground disappeared from under him.
“You insane bast-” he screamed as he hung in the air for a second before dropping like a rock.
Light exploded around Elijah, blinding him momentarily, his eyes burning. He hit the back of the Wyvern like a tonne of bricks. Almost sliding off it, he clung for dear life to the old man who’d somehow managed to move in front of him as they fell. The beat of the Wyvern’s wings rippled through the air and Elijah shouted in relief as it soared up above the rim of the island before twisting in mid-air to move like an arrow towards the Earthlands. Elijah clung all the harder to the old Seer, his shouts of relief turning to screams of fear as the wind tore at his robes, whipping them around him. He shut his eyes tightly, praying for the ride to end as every other second he lost his grip, only barely saving his life by grabbing back onto the Seer in front of him.
“This is more than unorthodox!” he screamed, his throat dry and painful, his every sense afire. He could feel every gust of wind on his skin, could smell the stench of the old wool he clung to and could hear every beat of the Wyvern’s wings. He didn’t like any of it. Although he was willing to admit it was a welcome alternative to a broken arm.
What felt like hours later, the Wyvern screeched to a stop on the ground, flinging sand and dust into the air as it landed. Elijah and his fellow passenger tumbled off to land in a heap on the sand. Elijah clung all the harder to the former Seer’s robes, his body locked in a fear-filled foetal position around the old man.
“Get off me!” the Seer shouted, pushing Elijah’s body away. “You are not a three-year-old girl and I am most definitely [_not _]your mother!”
Elijah rolled away and then stopped, staring straight ahead in shock, his whole body stiff. “How did you…” he stuttered. “How did you…”
“How did I what?” asked the old man irritably, shaking sand off his robes. “What is wrong with you boy?”
“How did you know?” finished Elijah pathetically, his mouth closing dumbly.
“I hoped, I guessed, I prayed. What does it matter? We’re alive now aren’t we? What more do you want?”
“You guessed?” Elijah asked disbelievingly. “Who are you?”
“Ah, I was hoping we could try to answer that question!” the old man exclaimed, suddenly looking pleased with himself. “I used to know you see, when I was a Seer, I knew I was a Seer. Solomon the Seer. It had a nice ring to it, good alliteration, you see? But then I got too old and I gradually began to lose the ability to use the timeline and suddenly I woke up one day and I was just Solomon. Solomon not the Seer. And now I’m just not sure about the whole thing. I mean who am I if I aren’t a Seer? I’ve always been a Seer and ‘Solomon not the Seer’ just doesn’t have the same ring to it…”
He walked around for a while, shaking his robes about in a frenzy. Elijah just stared.
“Then I tried being Solomon the Terrorist for a while,” he continued, shaking his head in disbelief. “That was fine, but I really don’t think it was for me. Almost got me chained up in the mines. Far too dangerous really, why if it weren’t for you, for you…” he spun around, suddenly throwing his hands up in excitement. “That’s it boy! I’ll teach you! Everything you need to know to be a Seer, I’ll show you everything… I will be Solomon the Teacher!” He shook his head. “No, that’s not quite right, it’s a good concept but it’s not what I’m looking for…” Suddenly he drew himself up, folding his arms and puffing out his chest in pride. “You, my rapt pupil, may address me as Solomon the Wise.”
Some of the shock and awe had begun to wear off Elijah at this stage and he laughed. “You have got to be kidding me. You’ll have more luck turning the sand back to soil then you will with that. This whole freaking world will become a tropical paradise before I start calling you that.”
Solomon’s face fell. He looked disappointed. Elijah almost felt like calling him wise just to cheer him up. But he was still slightly sore about the Solomon-threatening-to-break-his-arm-thing. He stood up suddenly, studying the sky. In the distance, dozens of black specks were appearing.
“They’re coming after us,” he whispered.
“Hmm?” Solomon asked, his face still looking hurt.
“They’re coming!” Elijah shouted. “Run!”
They ran straight for Prazna and snuck in through one of the massive marble gates. There were no guards. The Skylands had long since banned them. The gates themselves only still stood because they were frozen in time, a skill long since lost. Solomon led the way to the Future Storm, guiding them slowly through the twisted streets, their hoods pulled tightly over their faces. Elijah was silent as they walked, torn between guilt ridden thoughts of Truth and a desire to remain inconspicuous. Solomon was not.
“Where was I before? Oh yes, Ekriam’s salad, that was it, before you interrupted me with all your mad talk of escaping with our lives. Brilliant salad, put in nine different kinds of beans, nine! I didn’t even know there were nine different kinds of beans. I hear it’s gone downhill since. But, of course, I haven’t been back since the city was cut into nine. I wonder if they based it on the salad…”
He saw Elijah’s sceptical and slightly panicked look. “Really! Nine bean salad, it was amazing! Oh, right you meant the walls. Difficult to get the subtleties when it comes to ominous silence, but oh well.”
Elijah made a strained hissing noise. The kind of noise that is universal for ‘please shut up, I don’t want to tell you to shut up because it would draw even more attention than you are already drawing, but please shut up’. Solomon continued on relentlessly. “They put giant walls up all over the place you see, splitting it into nine districts. Believe me, if you thought Prazna was bad, you should see Ekriam. It was Seer heartland back in the day and the Skylanders don’t want it to be that again anytime soon. There are Wyverns at every wall just waiting for a Seer dumb enough to come near. Sure, by now it’s the most secure place in all of EarthSky, the Future Storm don’t even have one person above ground. Whenever they try, they last about ten minutes before being Silenced.”
Elijah didn’t answer. It would only encourage him.
“I have to say, I never thought I’d be going back to the Future Storm,” the old Seer mused. Elijah almost screamed. Who advertises that they’re going to a secret terrorist group? It’s supposed to be secret! That’s the whole point, when it stops being secret, they call them freedom fighters instead, that’s how you tell the difference! Shut up, shut up, shut up! “But, hey, I have to live up to my name. I’m no Solomon the Wise if I don’t teach you am I? No sir. No I’m not. Just left down here,” he said, indicating with the wrong arm. Elijah turned right and started to walk faster, in the way one does when trying to pretend they are in no way associated with the person talking to them.
“Now Coral, that’s a beautiful city,” continued Solomon, running to catch up. “It makes its money from fishing and given that most of the world is a desert now, it’s in pretty high demand. Guess even the Skylanders couldn’t figure out how to destroy the sea. Lovely city, paved in stone. Stone! Can you imagine that? None of these dusty roads here or those crappy concrete ones they have up above, no, proper, decent stone. Feels good beneath your feet you know what I mean? Just in here now,” he indicated a tavern to their left.
Elijah went in the one on their right. It was dark as they entered, a couple of dim light bulbs giving the room a bare, fluorescent glow. The whole place reeked of vomit and stale beer. Solomon walked straight up to the counter and smiled at the barkeep in the kind of open bright manner that would force anyone with a soul to unconsciously smile back. The barkeep did not smile.
“How are you doing Aon?” he asked.
“Well enough,” the barkeep replied cautiously, standing up straight to showcase his full seven foot of height. “Who’s yer friend?”
“Just someone for Ash to see,” smiled Solomon, unperturbed.
The huge barkeep rested one hand on a club that looked like it had been deliberately made to be so heavy only he could lift it. “You know Ash doesn’t like surprises Solomon.”
“She’ll like this one,” Solomon assured him, using a tone of voice that is normally reserved for large and dangerous animals.
The barkeep grunted and jerked his head towards a wooden doorway which had ‘Staff Only’ crudely painted on it in white. Solomon smiled at the man and led Elijah through the doorway. It smelt even worse than the rest of the tavern. Elijah wondered if it was a defence mechanism. Closing the door behind them, Solomon tucked his thumb into one of the floorboards and lifted it up, revealing a trap door. He flipped it open, grabbed a candle from a nearby shelf and lit it on a lantern. Holding the candle in one hand, he began to climb down a ladder into the inky darkness below. Elijah followed, slightly uncertainly. He was suddenly very aware that he knew very little about this old man he had rescued. And that he was now following him into utter darkness. Inside the cellar there were barrels everywhere, but at least the smell of vomit was slightly muted. It was hot and Elijah’s skin began to itch uncomfortably beneath his woollen robe. Close by, he could hear a rat’s paws scamper across the floorboards. At least he hoped it was a rat.
Solomon picked up a stick and began to tap out a beat on the barrels on every side. Each barrel made a slightly different sound when hit, the sound depending on the amount of beer they had in each barrel. Elijah tried to follow the beat for a while, but after about the fifteenth barrel he completely lost track. Then the beat stopped, Solomon replaced the stick and just stood there, waiting expectantly. Then one of the walls began to move. Slowly at first, but gradually, the wall in front of them creaked open, each end folding into the now cramped cellar.
Solomon smiled and turned to Elijah. “Welcome, young Seer, to the Future Storm.”
As they walked down the passage, Elijah heard the walls close behind them with a dull thud. It was dark and oppressive in the strange tunnel and the sound of the closing doors echoed all around him.
“It’s just down here,” muttered Solomon, his voice amplified by the tight tunnel.
Elijah didn’t answer him. The fear had left him now. All that was left was a cold rage for his murdered father and a burning desperation to save his sister. He didn’t care what it took. He was going back to the Skylands and he would bring her home.
After a short walk, they turned a corner and the darkness suddenly disappeared. The brightness of the room they entered blinded Elijah and he blinked rapidly. They were in a huge cavern, a natural cave. Stalactites even hung from the ceiling. In several corners, huge iron braziers spat out light and heat. Elijah looked around it: people flooded the room, clustered into dozens of groups as large as five or ten. Some looked up in curiosity as Elijah passed, but, for the most part, they ignored him. Solomon walked straight through it and Elijah quickened his pace to keep up with him. Abruptly, Solomon stopped and tapped the shoulder of a tall, lean woman with closely cropped blond hair.
“Ash,” he said pleasantly. “I have a new recruit for you.”
The woman turned around instantly, breaking off her conversation with the three people in front of her. “Solomon?” she asked. “I was told you were captured in the last attack.”
“I was,” replied the old Seer. “Apparently I didn’t have as much in me as I’d thought.”
“How’d you escape?” Ash asked.
“Lucky for me, the Skylanders managed to actually capture a Seer for once.”
It was only now that Ash noticed Elijah. Quickly, she stepped forward and grabbed him by the chin, pulling him towards her.
“What the frig-?!” Elijah spluttered, but the woman ignored him. Moving quickly, she tilted Elijah’s head back staring into his eyes.
“Say ah…” she muttered.
“No I will not bloody well say-”, but he never finished his sentence as Ash used her other hand to pull Elijah’s nose upwards as he talked, locking his jaw between her two hands. She peered quickly down his throat and then let go.
“What the freakin-” began Elijah.
“He looks good.” Interrupted Ash, ignoring Elijah. Solomon just grinned. “How is he when he prophesies?”
“He took down the entire Testing Centre with just the raw timeline. That good enough for you?”
Ash’s eyebrows rose. “He could be very useful to us,” she mused.
“Are you kidding me?” shouted Elijah, his patience wearing thin. “I didn’t come here for a dental exam, I came because you guys are supposed to have an army! My sister is dying up there in those mines because I’m a Seer! You are an army of Seers. I want you to help me get her back!”
Ash smiled one of those thin smiles that no one ever uses when they are actually happy. “I make the orders here, young one. Look around yourself,” She swung her arm around in a gesture that took in the whole cavern. “Do you think there isn’t one person here who hasn’t lost someone to the Skylands? Do you think that we are going to just drop everything, just because one more Earthlander has become a slave to the mines? There are thousands of people just like your sister. We don’t want to just save her, we want to save everyone. To do that we have to plan, we have to use strategy. We have to think ten steps ahead of the Skylands because if we don’t they will kill every one of us first chance they get.”
“Yes but -”
“We will save your sister,” interrupted Ash. “That is why we fight, to right the wrongs that the Skylands impose upon the Earth. But you must calm yourself, allow yourself to be trained. Then you can go up there and get her back yourself.”
Elijah took a deep breath. “She is nine years old. She doesn’t have time for me to train. She doesn’t have time for your strategy. She won’t survive up there! Solomon said you raid the mines the whole time, I’m just asking that you bring me with you. Let me bring her home!”
“Do you even know what Island she’s on?” Ash asked. “How about what mine, what seam? She could be anywhere.”
“Then I’ll search every single damn Island till I get her back!”
“That is not a sound strategy,” replied Ash, her voice as cold and unrelenting as a glacier.
Elijah stared at the commander. Her eyes were grey and resolute atop cheekbones that seemed to stab the air. He knew what everyone else saw. They saw determination, they saw a cool head, they saw the only person brave enough to pin a nation’s hopes to a rag-tag bunch of Seers whose own knowledge of their power had been lost to the depths of time.
But it wasn’t what he saw. He saw an obstacle. He saw the person stopping him from rescuing his sister. He saw an unmovable wall that stood between himself and Truth.
“The Earthlands hate you, you know that?” He said. “Every single person in this land you claim to represent would murder you themselves if it came right down to it. They hate you for your power. They hate all of us for it! Every single one of us! They would never follow you. Even if you get your war, even if all the Earthlands rise up as one to overthrow the Skylands, they will not follow you. And from the ruins of a world after war they would come for you. They would come for you and they would rip out your tongue just like the Skylanders!”
“Be silent,” commanded Ash.
But Elijah wasn’t going to stop now. He couldn’t stop now.
“What’s the point? If you can’t help Seers, what’s the point? If you can’t even save one scared and hungry little girl why do you even exist?”
“We exist to bring hope,” replied Ash, her voice as steady as a rock, conviction oozing from every word.
“You exist to hide!” roared Elijah. “You exist to find every Seer you can and hide ten feet underground because you know everyone else would kill you the first chance they got! You are nothing but a coward!”
Ash’s face went white with fury. A second later, the palm of her hand slapped across Elijah’s face. It wasn’t an indignant slap. It wasn’t one of those slaps you use just to make a point. This was a slap which had weight behind it. It was the kind of open handed blow that an assailant has chosen to use because they know that a fist would just break the offending party’s nose. And it almost threw Elijah from his feet. Spots danced in front of his eyes and blood dripped from a broken lip.
“Ouch,” was all he said. Then Solomon was there, grabbing Elijah by the shoulder and planting himself firmly between them.
“Wow! He likes to talk doesn’t he? Pity he’s not much good at anything else! Sorry about this Ash,” he smiled pleasantly and began to drag Elijah away. “You know how it is with the Tear, he’s had a hard day. He’s doesn’t mean anything by it.”
“I meant every word…” grumbled Elijah. “If you bunch of – “
“We’ll come back later, after he’s had some training,” interrupted Solomon, using his other hand to block Elijah’s mouth. Elijah tried to bite him.
“Wait Solomon,” Ash called after them. Solomon paused halfway across the cavern, still holding Elijah in an iron grip. “The Testing Centre was his Tear you said? Is he the one you and Xanthius have been looking for?”
Solomon nodded once and then turned his back on the commander of the Future Storm.
It was hard for Sybil to get her life back to normal. She couldn’t get the image of the broken mirror out of her head. Often, she tried to think about the mirror itself: the broken glass, the simple wooden frame, anything that could take her focus away from what lay within it.
Even mustering up the enthusiasm for Higher Level Destruction was an effort. Surprisingly, however, her concentration on not thinking about the mirror helped her to keep her appearance more controlled.
Master Sooth noticed.
“Sybil, let’s start with you again,” she said. She was wearing bright blue Breaches today, Sybil noticed vaguely. “This time, there will be no guidance. You must enter the mind of the beast on your own.”
Sybil nodded, sure of herself. She could remember the beat of the last lesson exactly. It was quiet in the grassy clearing and she used the silence to calm her mind. Beside her, she could sense the presence of her fellow Students, but they too were perfectly still. The air was calm and beyond the points of the skyscrapers, the sun shone brightly. Listening for the quiet drum of the Pulse, she let it fill her and allowed it to form into the desired volume and tempo. Gradually, she reached out to the Wyvern, searching for the familiar spark that would allow entry into its mind. The Wyvern cringed back into its cage, moving great talons over its head as if it could protect itself. Within seconds, she saw the flash of light, just above its ribbed nose, and she directed the beat towards it, absent-mindedly tapping it out with her foot as she did so. Her Pulse entered the Wyvern’s mind and suddenly her vision blurred, her view split between that of this world and that of the seething mass of memories that was the Wyvern’s mind.
Master Sooth nodded approvingly, sensing Sybil’s progress. “Now show it what we can do, Sybil,” she commanded. “Pick a memory and destroy it.”
On the second plane that now made up half of Sybil’s vision, she watched memories fly by, brief moments of movement, most just still frames, snatches of random interactions between the Wyvern and a couple of others. No, not a couple. Sybil stopped letting her beat flow, retracting it, staring at one of the memories. Dozens, hundreds. The Wyvern cringed back against the cage. More Wyverns than she had ever seen in her life. She could feel herself interacting with them, the memory melding with her own mind, feeling the Wyvern’s joy, his happiness and his sense of oneness with the others…
“Sybil!” the voice of Master Sooth snapped her back to reality. “Destroy the memory!” Sybil shook herself. Why was she doing this? For the sake of a training exercise? Was it worth destroying for that?
“Sybil!” the Master commanded more insistently.
Sybil left the Wyvern’s mind and let the Pulse drift away from her, allowing it to quieten to just a gentle beat in the back of her mind.
“I won’t,” she said quietly. “It’s wrong, Master Sooth.”
The Master inhaled sharply. “They are just animals, Sybil,” she answered levelly. “And if you have gotten this far, you know how they must be treated. The minute you start to empathise with them, to trust them, they gain an advantage you cannot afford them to have during any Arrival.”
“I know,” answered Sybil coolly. “But I still won’t do it.”
“Are you disobeying a direct order, Student?” Master Sooth asked, her tone gentle, but tinged with menace.
Sybil just stared at her, her eyes defiant.
“It’s always the best ones that get these notions,” sighed the Master. “Right. Brandon!” she called and a lean Guardian stopped in his patrol of the grounds.
“Yes, Master Sooth?” he asked.
“Take Student Sybil to Hesther,” the Master commanded coldly. “And see that she listens to every word he has to say.”
“Have you been to Hesther before?” Brandon asked as they walked down the stone steps into the depths of the Drum. Sybil shook her head, unwilling to talk unless her voice shook. She did not know Brandon well, but he seemed uneasy about his task. He probably did not want to visit the madman either.
“Try not to pay too much attention to him,” Brandon continued. “He may claim to have seen the future, but he’s also insane. You might think what he says applies to you, but he’s nuts, he could think he’s talking to Tommen or something.”
“He was alive when Tommen lived?” Sybil asked incredulously, breaking her silence.
“I doubt it,” grunted Brandon. “The guy can’t be much older than fifty and Tommen died over a hundred and fifty years ago, yet sometimes he acts like he was talking to him just yesterday.”
Sybil nodded. It was rare that the Pulse brought madness, but when it did, it was terrible.
As they moved deeper below the Drum, the air seemed to get colder and colder, causing Sybil to shiver. Finally, they reached a plain wooden door, bound by two heavy iron hinges. The door was made to act as a barrier, so that Hesther’s effect on the Pulse could not leave the room. Sybil could feel the beat of the Pulse flowing through the wood, its steady rhythm repeating again and again.
“I’ll be out here when he stops talking,” Brandon muttered. “When I open the door, you’ll know you can leave.”
Sybil nodded, steeling herself. This was not going to be fun. As soon as she entered the room, a shrieking pain screamed through her mind. Sybil gasped as if struck. Behind her the door slammed shut. The familiar, steady, beat of the Pulse had become a screaming, tortured wail. Sybil tried to concentrate on muting it, on lowering it to something just in the back of her mind, but she couldn’t, the sound was too slippery, too intangible. She couldn’t get a grip on it. The piercing wail continued its tormented shriek, burning through her brain. Suddenly, she felt nauseous. She fell to her knees, her hands covering her ears, shutting her eyes against the shriek. But there was no stopping it, no preventing it, the Pulse was as much a part of her as her own arms. She groaned in agony, small stones digging through her trousers as she ground her knees into the cell floor. Suddenly, from deep within her, a feeling of utter despair began to creep through her gut.
She would not give in. She was not weak. Her eyes flashed open. The piercing pain was still there, but she refused to let it affect her. She clenched her fists together, grinding them into the stone floor. She would not be broken.
“They sent another one,” a voice whispered suddenly. Sybil’s head snapped up, her gaze moving beyond the flagstones. In front of her stood about thirty thick iron bars, separating her from a dim cell where a man lay in a foetal position, his head balanced on his knees. His voice was only just audible above the scream of the Pulse. Sybil was surprised she’d heard it. Then, suddenly, he was on his feet, sprinting towards the bars and hitting them with both palms first, his hands closing around them. The sound rang throughout the cramped, rocky room, but Sybil barely noticed.
Hesther leered down at her. “Oh, but not just any one of them. I’ve seen you before. You who will make the Sky fall!” he convulsed quietly, laughter contracting his lined, bearded face. “You’ve seen him!” he laughed, then he stopped, his head twitching. “No not him, no, you haven’t seen him yet. But you will, won’t you? Will you? You might. The Sky is falling!” he collapsed, his hands covering his head. “What have you done? You use the cursed gift! You use the Seer’s power, you are one of them!”
Sybil struggled up from the ground, only now noticing her nose was bleeding again. She wiped the blood away casually with one grey sleeve. “I am not one of them,” she said, her voice trying to be cold, but just sounding desperate to her own ears. It didn’t help that she had to struggle to keep from screaming. But Hesther had already started muttering again: “three and then seven, nine and then stop! It’s happening again! It’s happening again. Three, seven, nine and then twelve, thirteen, nine and then back to six. It will happen again!”
“What are you…?” Sybil asked.
“He is coming!” Hesther screamed suddenly, shaking the metal bars in a frenzy. “He is coming to turn the world flat, to break the Wyvern’s wings. You will destroy the other! And he will destroy all of us and he will break the wings himself and he will come back to us and beasts greater than ever seen shall come. Stone shall be flesh! He is coming!”
Sybil stared at the ragged, desperate, screaming man and suddenly laughed. This thing did not even know she was there. He was talking nonsense. She was no Seer, she did not even make the Wyvern’s glow. To even consider his words made her almost as mad as he was.
Then Hesther tilted his eyes up, staring right at her. “Do not laugh, Sybil,” he said quietly and Sybil’s breath caught in her throat, almost choking her. She coughed raggedly, struggling to breathe.
“Beware he who breaks the Wyvern’s wings,” he continued quietly. “Beware when the sky turns white for then your loyalties shall be tested.”
Sybil felt a cold, dark fear fill her heart. He knew her name.
“Beware who?” she asked, suddenly desperate. “What are you talking about, what do you know?”
But Hesther just giggled inanely, retreating into one of the cell’s dark corners.
“Tell me!” Sybil shouted, her voice more a shriek than anything else.
“Sybil?” a voice came from behind her. She twisted her neck, realising she was still on the floor. In the doorway, Brandon stood. How long had he been there? “Come on,” he said. “Let’s get you out of here.”
Sybil scrambled to her feet, running from the room as behind her Hesther convulsed into silent laughter.
Elijah stood in a huge marble palace. He glanced down at himself. His body was faintly translucent, as if a mad potter had decided to paint him in a glaze which had not yet dried. Experimentally, he poked an arm into his chest and wasn’t the least bit surprised to see it pass straight through it.
Turning his attention away from his ghostly frame, he looked around the palace that surrounded him. He’d never seen anything like it and although that was getting to be a pretty common feeling, he doubted the richness of his surroundings had any equal. The ceiling was huge and vaulted with beautiful mahogany timbers, polished to a shine. Their roots were balanced delicately on dozens of pink marble pillars, each inlaid with so much gold it made Elijah’s fingers itch. If he’d had a bit more substance to his form, he’d have been at them with a hammer and chisel faster than you could say ‘destruction of priceless architecture’. Massive paintings hung on every wall, depicting people he’d never heard of all in improbably heroic positions, half of them fighting beasts he could not put a name to. At the very top of the hall stood a beautiful, gilded throne, bathed in sunlight from a circular stain glass window set above it. Atop it sat a man wearing a thin circlet of beaten gold, speaking to a small group of advisors who surrounded him. A purple carpet led up to the group and Elijah began to walk along it. As he got closer he realised that the figure atop the throne was not in a good mood.
“The War on Time is over!” he was shouting. “Every nation has agreed to the peace and those that did not have been shown the error of their ways. Why do the Breaches persist?”
“We are working to close them,” an elderly woman answered. “But it takes dozens of Seers to close a Breach and only one to open one. And the work is risky, many have died already.”
“I don’t understand,” said the king, in the kind of aggravated, hushed tones you never want to hear from someone in authority. “We killed every Seer who did not agree to the terms of the peace, did we not? Why is this still happening?”
“You must understand my emperor, those who were not initially open with their discontent are increasingly hard to locate. Many are citizens of nations which disappeared during the first period of timeline change. Records of them literally do not exist anymore. And your recent directives against us are making things more difficult. Being forced to wear these symbols so openly makes us targets.” She indicated the diamond surrounded by a circle that was stitched into the hem of her robe. “Even those Seers who supported you are beginning to feel like they cannot make a life in Aubrey. It limits our supply of volunteers.”
The emperor took a deep breath. “Nobody is trying to make you a target Celine. I cannot control what the people do. But these Breaches, they have to be stopped, they are killing so many.”
“I live to serve your imperial majesty,” Celine smiled obediently. “And I understand the necessity of these measures. But it is difficult to get the word out now that we are forbidden from meeting in groups.”
“We gave you all your own quarter in this fine city Celine, I think it is a small thing to ask for you not to congregate in large numbers. You know how dangerous just a few renegades together could be and you cannot speak for them all.”
“You forced us into this quarter,” corrected Celine, her smile wooden. “Such an action has not made you popular.”
The emperor nodded his head in what he probably thought was a wise and meaningful way. “You know that there is no help for it. We need to know who the Seers are and we need to know where they are at all times. I do not see any alternative to stopping these Breaches.”
“Give us back the respect we once had before the War on Time. Reopen our schools and hospitals, win back the hearts and minds of a people you have worked so hard to estrange – then there will be no shortage of volunteers and the rebels just a minor nuisance.”
“You always sought to instruct your betters Celine, rather than be instructed by them. But the days of Seers playing games with the world’s leaders are long past.You just concentrate on closing these Breaches. When we can be sure that the Seers of Aubrey no longer pose a threat, we will of course remove these emergency measures.”
“Thank you, your majesty.” The old woman turned to leave, slowly shuffling out of the throne room. Elijah stayed, watching the emperor with a fixed gaze. He didn’t trust him. It was something about the way he talked, as if every word was dragged across silk. Or maybe it was just because he knew how this story ended. The emperor turned to the other two advisors who stood in the room. “Have you heard back from Galgala and Ekriam yet?”
The first of them nodded, a plump middle aged man who wore a large gold chain which flopped against his belly. “Yes, your imperial majesty. They have all agreed to the Silence. They will put the necessary measures in place in their own nations.”
The emperor nodded. “It has to be simultaneous, do you understand? The timing has to be exact. The Seers are too dangerous to be allowed mount a response.”
“What about the remaining Breaches Sire?” the other advisor asked, a small thin man who looked like he could turn on his side and become all but invisible.
“Celine and her people will close as many as they can before the Silence comes. Those that she does not close we will leave open. They will burn themselves out in a matter of months, provided no new ones are opened.”
The advisor bowed low. “And of Celine herself?”
“We cannot play favourites,” intoned the emperor in leaden tones. “Every one of them is a risk. When it comes to it, I will take her tongue myself.”
The vision faded. With a start Elijah realised he was back in the small cavern with Solomon and in front of him was an apple whose form glittered with rainbow threads. Instinctually, he pulled the threads, whatever power that he was cursed with working its magic as he stared at it, fast-forwarding time. Within seconds, it was mouldy and reeking, moments later it was but a brown stain on the floor of the cave. Solomon clapped his hands in glee.
“Brilliant, just brilliant, you’re really getting the hang of this! I am turning out to be an excellent teacher if I do say so myself. And I do.”
But Elijah wasn’t finished. He could still see the threads of the timeline, forming a translucent, rainbow apple where the flesh of the fruit had once sat. He moved it back and suddenly, the apple began to reappear, slowly recomposing and forming the perfect red it had been but a second ago. Solomon started, surprised and frowned slightly. But the power still filled Elijah, he could feel it radiating through him, the force of the vision still fresh in his mind and he pulled at the thread again with his mind, or whatever part of him it was that could rend time at will, and once again the apple began to collapse in front of him. Then he brought it back. Then he destroyed it. Again and again until the power left him and spots danced in front of his eyes. He fell back, gasping for breath. The timeline left the apple and returned to lurking just on the edge of his vision.
Solomon’s eyebrows rose. “So I think you’ve learned lesson one pretty well…”
“I think,” rasped Elijah, his mouth dry and raw. “That I am entitled to a few answers here. Why do I keep seeing these visions and why do awful things always happen in them? Didn’t anything nice ever happen in the past? What is a Breach and what is the ‘Tear’, you know that thing that Ash said. And lastly, and most importantly, when are we going to rescue Truth?”
“I set the lesson plan here…” replied Solomon frowning but he saw Elijah’s firm, yet exhausted gaze.
“Fine. You want answers, I’ll give you answers. All Seers see visions of the past when they first discover their power, personally I think it’s the Voice’s way of letting us come to an understanding of it. It lets us see how the gift of Prophecy has been used in the past in the hope of guiding our hand today. But I’ve always been a romantic.”
“What’s the Voice?” interrupted Elijah starting to get slightly worried about the fact that the old man who had taken him to join a secret organisation that lived a dozen feet underground was hearing voices.
“One question at a time. The Breaches are what happens when you do a bad job of manipulating the Timeline. Or space in general. It is particularly common in the building of Tunnels…”
“Manipulating the timeline-,” interrupted Elijah again. “That’s what I want to know. Then I can go back, before all this started. I can fix it, my dad, Truth, everything.”
“You have to visit the Voice of Time first,” replied Solomon. “And even then it would not be easy. It can take as many as six Seers working together to go back as much as half an hour, let alone days. Why do you think we are losing this war? If we could do it, do you not think we would have gone back and made it so the War on Time didn’t happen? Nothing is ever that easy. And the further back we go, the more risk there is of opening a Breach. Even going back a few days is a risk these days. During the War on Time, it was easier to do but now the timeline has become so broken and so fragile, that any change, no matter how subtle, can cause a Breach. The world might have moved on, but our power still suffers from that war.”
“Why isn’t anything ever easy? Can you at least tell me when the next raid is? I need to go back there. I need to rescue Truth.”
Solomon hesitated for a moment. “There is a plan in place. It’s something we’ve been working on for a while… if it works, we may be able to save everyone at once. Every single prisoner of the mines. But you will have to be patient. Now,” he clapped his hands together, smiling. “Something tells me it’s lunch time soon!”
“I’ll eat here,” replied Elijah picking up the apple. “I want to train some more.”
“Wait-,” started Solomon before Elijah’s teeth sank into the red fruit.
The dull, penetrating taste of rot instantly hit Elijah’s tongue. He chocked, spitting out the piece of apple. It skidded across the floor. Elijah stared at the offending piece of fruit. Aside from the bite he’d taken out of it, it looked flawless.
“What was that?” he groaned, feeling like he wanted to wash his mouth out with soap.
“That’s what an apple tastes like when you force it back and forth across its own timelines,” replied Solomon.
“Why?” asked Elijah still staring at the inconspicuous piece of fruit in his hand. He felt betrayed. When a piece of fruit can betray you, you know you’re in trouble.
Solomon shrugged. “It died. You brought it back. That’s just what happens. When something dies, all that was good about it dies with it – and you can’t change that.”
Elijah couldn’t get to lunch fast enough after that. Some people might be put off their food by the taste of rot. Elijah just wanted more food to force the taste away. Preferably something with about ten chilies in it. As they entered the cavern, he noticed that twenty large, white mats had been set up all around the room. Dozens of people had already begun to sit down on them, clutching bowls of soup taken from a huge black vat in the centre of the cavern. The atmosphere was hot and stifling, despite the massive area.
Elijah grabbed a bowl from a teetering pile beside the vat, only now realising how hungry he was. Ladling a generous portion of soup into it, he took a seat on one of the white mats, near the back of the cavern. He gulped the soup down greedily, wishing that its consistency was just a fraction thicker than water and that the taste of the apple didn’t still plague his tongue. He had just finished when suddenly the whole room erupted with a brilliant, blazing light. Elijah shaded his eyes, staring around himself as over twenty Seers shone brightly. He was not alone anymore, he realised with a start. That meant as long as he could outrun the rest of them, the Skylanders would never capture him again. Always nice to know. He turned, looking for the source of the light and saw a Wyvern, walking through the cavern calmly. A couple of the other Seers glanced in its general direction, but most just returned to their soup.
“I thought only the Skylanders had Wyverns?” asked Elijah as the beast stalked past him, its talons making a click-clacking noise on the floor.
“There’s a lot you don’t know about the Wyverns,” replied Solomon. “To be honest, there’s a lot you don’t know full stop.”
Elijah watched it, unable to move his gaze. The animal looked familiar. It couldn’t be the same one, could it? He shook his head. He was just seeing what he wanted to see, seeing coincidences and providence when there was nothing there. He stood up, bringing his bowl out to a neighbouring cave, where a copper basin filled with cold water stood. He washed it quickly, then returned to Solomon who was onto his second bowl. Elijah waited impatiently as the old Seer finished the soup. This was taking far too long, he had to learn. How was he supposed to save Truth if he didn’t know how to use this power of his? Every moment spent here was another one she was spending trapped in those mines. He drummed his hand impatiently against the cold, rocky ground. It felt like an age until Solomon was finally done and they returned to the cave to resume their training.
“Lesson two,” began Solomon. “Inanimate objects. You will find they are very similar to animate objects, but it takes longer before your power has any effect on them, simply because it takes longer for them to decay.” He placed a clay pot before Elijah. “Move its timeline forward by fifty years.”
Elijah sighed. “How is this helpful?”
“Guardians wear armour. If you want to get past it, you’ll need it to rust. Now my rapt pupil, destroy that pot!” He waved a finger in the air dramatically.
Elijah shrugged and reached out for the rainbow of colours at the edge of his vision. Bright tendrils of the timeline flashed for just a second and then the cave was gone.
Elijah stood on the side of a cliff, overlooking a vast crater. All around him, the desert stretched for miles. He was aware that far in the distance, the sound of the Siren could be heard, its high pitched wail irritating even at this distance. Around him a group of desert nomads were huddled together, their fingers pointing upwards and speaking in the quick panicked tones of the terrified. Elijah followed their fingers. Above him, one of the Skylander’s Islands was shaking. It is rare to see something of that size shake. Elijah imagined that it must be what the sea looks like to a bird. It was terrifying. When you see a floating island for the first time, your mind rejects the possibility. After a while though you get used to it. It because stable, a normal part of the sky. Seeing it shake felt like seeing the sun start to wobble. It made Elijah feel that something was very wrong with the world. This feeling was reinforced when large chunks of earth began to fall from the sky. It started as dust, so small and inconspicuous that it was caught and tossed about by the wind before it ever reached them, becoming part of the swathes of sand that travelled through the air in the desert. Then small pieces of grit began to fall, the nomads voicing early complaints as they began to sting their faces like hail. Then the first pebbles fell. One struck an elderly man who fell instantly, as if he was a puppet who had his strings cut. There was a gasp of disbelief from the nomads, quickly followed by a primal wail of terror and running. A crying woman dragged the dead body behind her as the pebbles fell with lethal speed. Elijah was terrified too, even though he knew the stones couldn’t hurt him. He flinched as each one passed through him, hitting the ground with a hiss. Vast chunks of rock began to rain from the sky above him, falling in huge dark swathes, obliterating the sun as they fell, a dark curtain of earth. Above him, the Island of Carthos began to tilt towards the south, like a saucer teetering on the edge of a table and even at this distance Elijah could hear the screaming of its inhabitants. The shaking increased, the Island seeming to vibrate in the air above him, more chunks of rock and earth falling around Elijah and crashing into the desert sand. And then it fell.
It did not fall slowly. Somehow, Elijah had always expected it to fall slowly. As if something so large and implacable would resist gravity’s force better than the smaller pieces of rock and grit. Instead it crashed to the earth with all the power and force one would expect a continent sized asteroid to have, as if gravity was simply making up for lost time. It fell in a blur, a million tons of rock and earth warping the air as it fell, making a mirage of the whole world. Black dots peeled away from it as it fell, Elijah’s brain making them out to be Wyverns, fleeing the catastrophe. It hit the ground with a sound louder than the human mind can fathom. It was a never ending crash that shattered Elijah’s eardrums and smashed his skull from the inside out. And as it hit the ground the sand rose to meet it, rising like a wave to embrace the Island. Elijah stood on the edge of the crater but still it shook the ground around him, throwing the sand in the air and crafting a sandstorm that tore across the land, flying through Elijah and making him into a part of it. The wind howled through the air, as if all the air displaced by the falling Island had formed a mob and decided it was time for revenge upon the earth that had so disturbed it. It picked up the sand and tore through the air with it in tow, transforming the world into subtle shades of brown and beige. Elijah stood at the lip of the crater as the storm raged around him and stared at the fallen Island. It lay broken in the crater, a black mass before the sandstorm, huge chunks of rock and earth split and fractured into crumbling towers of earth and deep pits of utter darkness. Buildings lay collapsed around it, the scream of the Siren gone now and the sharp bright colour of blood tainting the fallen rocks. And somewhere amongst all the confusion of the fallen buildings and the broken earth and the dead bodies, a baby began to cry.
Elijah opened his eyes and gasped. He sat on the ground shaking for a few minutes as he tried to process what he had just seen.
“The Fall?” asked Solomon, his voice sympathetic.
Elijah nodded numbly. He could feel the power of the raw timeline filling him, but he didn’t have the energy to use it. He felt drained, exhausted. Slowly, he let it dissipate, the threads of rainbow which slithered across the cavern floor slowly receding to the edge of his vision.
When Elijah spoke, his voice was cracked and weak.
“Water?” he asked.
Solomon passed him a leather water skin.
Elijah took it and drank deeply. “Why am I so thirsty?” He asked after draining the bag, not wanting to talk about what he’d seen and feeling like changing the topic of conversation was the most mentally healthy thing to do at this point.
“You talk when you see the visions,” replied Solomon. “Why do you think it’s called the power of Prophecy?”
“So that’s why they take our tongues,” Elijah replied, unsurprised by the revelation. People always said that Seers could tell the future. Some even said that they caused it. An unfair accusation Elijah felt. It wasn’t his fault most of the future was so awful. It did keep company with the past and the present. Those sort of friends were bound to have a negative influence. “Did I say anything interesting?” he asked Solomon.
His teacher nodded. “Apparently that rescue plan you were hoping for is going to go ahead. Tonight.”
Tonight. Elijah felt both elated and terrified. He’d wanted to rescue Truth as soon as possible, he just didn’t know if he was ready. It didn’t matter, he reminded himself. He needed to be ready.
“We’d better get back to work then.”
When Ash came it was without ceremony. She strode into the room with the confidence that comes from people obeying your orders all day.
“The rescue will be tonight,” she announced. “And your rapt pupil shall join us.”
“I thought you couldn’t get the shield down,” replied Solomon cautiously.
He was being careful and Elijah appreciated that. But he also didn’t care for it.
“What do you need me to do?” he asked, his voice betraying his eagerness.
“The Skylanders have a shield that surrounds the foundations of their islands. It’s kept in the Security Library. Xanthius has informed me that if we can disable that shield that there is a tunnel that the Wyverns can take which will bring us into the heart of the mines. We only get one chance. If we fail, the Skylanders will block the tunnels and our chance to rescue those enslaved in the mines will be gone forever.”
Xanthius… there was that name again. Elijah had questions, but he forced them down. There would be time for questions later. After he rescued Truth.
“I’ll do it. I’ll destroy their shield.”
“That’s a suicide mission,” said Solomon flatly. “The Security Library is in the centre of the Drum.”
Elijah smiled half to himself. It was nice that Solomon cared. But as far as he was concerned he had died in Prazna, his old life taken as effectively as if a sword had done it. Truth was the only part of that life he had left. If there was anyone worth going on a suicide mission for, it was her.
“It doesn’t matter,” Elijah insisted. “I’ll do it.”
“Ash this is foolishness,” growled Solomon. “Elijah is too important to throw away on something like this.”
There it was again. More questions, bubbling just beneath the surface. But they didn’t matter. Truth was all that mattered.
“If he’s the Aontaithe the Voice will hardly let anything happen to him, will it?” replied Ash drily. “Besides if he took down the Testing Centre he’s well up for the job.”
Solomon opened his mouth to protest further but Ash cut him off. “If we send soldiers, it’ll raise the alarm. This is our only chance. Let’s just hope you’re as good a teacher as you think you are.”
In the early hours of the morning, they came for Sybil. She tried to scream, but the Siren blocked out all sound. Three of them rushed through in a blur, pinning her to her own bed. She quickly listened for the Pulse, slamming one of them back against the wall. She heard a satisfying splat. She aimed for the rest, but then two Pulse-Masters were there, shattering her every attempt at using the Pulse.
“Get away from me!” she screamed, trying in vain to concentrate on the Pulse’s erratic beat.
“Stop fighting, Student!” one of the Pulse-Masters shouted, a skinny man just barely into his twenties.
“You first!” shouted Sybil as the Pulse-Master disrupted yet another beat she had formed.
“You must come with us!” continued the Pulse-Master, his voice commanding, his brow sweating. Sybil ignored him, scrambling against the Guardians and trying in vain to mould the Pulse to her will. It slipped from her grasp. She shouted in rage, but her screams were blocked as the second Pulse-Master expertly soundproofed the room.
“Student stop!” shouted the first Pulse-Master, trying to retain control of the events in the room. Sybil just struggled all the more, clawing desperately at the hands of the Guardian who pinned her wrists.
“We are here for questions!” shouted the Pulse-Master, holding up his hands. He nodded to the Guardians who reluctantly released her limbs, one of them rubbing his back. Sybil eyed them suspiciously. The second Pulse-Master continued to prevent her from using the Pulse. “We have a warrant for your arrest, signed by the full assembly of Tommen’s Hall,” continued the Pulse-Master, producing a sheaf of paper from his pocket. “You are only to be questioned. Do not make this into a Justice trial.”
Sybil eyed the long roll of paper, stamped on one end with the seal of the Skylands.
“Just let me get changed,” she muttered at last, deciding that her options were limited at best. The Guardians muttered suspiciously, but backed out of the room. Sybil didn’t even have time to think about what was happening. Walking to her closet, she took out a plain blue dress, discarding her usual grey uniform. She still had the freedom to choose at least this much. Stripping off her night dress, she changed quickly then walked to the room’s only door and looked regally out at the Guardians.
“I am ready,” she smiled sweetly.
“Good,” answered the Pulse-Master. The other Pulse-Master just stayed silent, clearly just there to disrupt any attempt Sybil made to escape.
The Guardians made no attempt to grab her. Maybe it was the dress. Maybe they thought she looked too vulnerable. She could use that to her advantage. Quickly, they walked down the steep steps, Sybil’s mind churning with potential escape plans. Outside three Wyverns were waiting. The Pulse-Master got on one and instructed Sybil to sit behind him on the two-person saddle. The other four members of the group did likewise, and one group became three.
Within minutes they were in the air, the top of the city’s skyscrapers just below their feet. The wind whipped around Sybil and she clung to the shoulders of the Pulse-Master in front of her. It was freezing this high up and she was glad they’d caught her before she’d showered.
“Where are we going?” she shouted over the wind.
“Svan.” The Pulse-Master answered shortly. Sybil felt a shiver run down her spine. She clamped her mouth shut and took a deep breath. At this point, the less she talked the better.
When they at last landed on the other island, Sybil was struck by how flat it all was. Long complexes of buildings, busy even at this hour of the morning, lay as far as the eye could see, but none bigger than two stories.
‘[_Less of a target to hit,’ _]she thought subconsciously, old lessons from Strategy and Tactics coming back to her. As they lifted themselves off the Wyverns, three soldiers rushed out to lead the beasts away. Her guards marched her into a barracks in front of them, a dull building made of ordinary granite.
A cold sweat trickled down Sybil’s back. Her stomach felt like it was in knots as they led her in. She didn’t like the look of this.
“Sit,” one of the Pulse-Masters ordered, pointing at a wooden chair. Sybil obeyed instinctually. Behind her, the rest of the soldiers trickled out of the room. They were alone. Above, a single bulb cast a harsh light around the room. There was no furniture aside from the table at which she sat and the two plain wooden chairs under each of them. There were no windows and the atmosphere was tense and heavy.
“You may call me Darren.” The Pulse-Master began, pushing a piece of paper towards Sybil.
Sybil picked it up, not bothering to reply. She sensed that this place was not intended for small talk. On it was a surprisingly accurate sketch of the Seer she had captured.
“Do you know this man?” Darren asked. He had grey hair and a hard, square jaw and eyes that seemed to bore into her soul.
“I…” Sybil faltered for a second. Why was she here? “I captured him,” she finished, trying to control her breathing. She must be emotionless.
“Hm,” the Pulse-Master muttered. “Then why did you let him go?”
“I did not let[_ _]him go,” answered Sybil calmly. “He escaped.”
“He escaped twice from you,” replied the Pulse-Master, his hand drumming rhythmically on the table. “Were you a Guardian, there’d be no cause for concern but you Sybil, are top of your class, you skipped through your introductory years in the Drum as if they were child’s play and I find it difficult to imagine that you would have let him escape you so easily.” To Sybil’s ears, the Pulse-Master’s fingers drummed the table as if they had a personal vendetta against timber.
Sybil felt anger boil up within her. “If there is a problem with security,” she replied in an icy tone. “It is with the Testing Centre. They let him go, I might as well have wrapped him up in a ribbon for them. I fail to see how their failure could be misinterpreted as a fault of mine.”
The Pulse-Master nodded.
“Yes but the second time you met you basically waved him off. Not to mention the fact that earlier in that same day you sought mercy for a known sympathiser of the Future Storm.” He spread his hands, a picture of open honesty. “You can see how this looks.”
Sybil’s breath caught in her throat and she closed her eyes, the image of the little girl’s death welling up behind her eyelids. She opened them, banishing the memory. “I was mistaken,” she replied.
The Pulse-Master continued to drum his fingers against the wood of the table, seeming to gather speed as he spoke.
“You are aware that the Drum is far more than a school Sybil. It is the seat of all our power. It is where new techniques for wielding the Pulse are perfected, it is where our military are trained, where our elite Wyverns are housed. And you are aware that there are those within it that dabble in dangerous research areas that can be unpredictable. There are even some who think that we can control the power wielded by Seers and use it for our own. Practical experimentation in such matters is of course forbidden, yet there are those who dabble nonetheless… and often drag unfortunate Students into their depraved experiments.” He stared at Sybil intensely, the drumming of his fingers intensifying.
“How long have you known you are a Seer, Student?” he asked.
Sybil froze. Her mouth refused to move. “I… I…”
“Because I have a transcript here,” continued the Pulse-Master, tapping another sheet of paper. “That says that Hesther identified you as such. It is of course not a naturally occurring happenstance, a Seer has never been born on these islands, but there is Earthlander blood in you Sybil. Your mother, I believe? And if a Pulse-Master within the Drum were to have conducted experiments on you…”
“Hesther is mad and I have no mother, only my Raisers,” replied Sybil.
“You have nothing to fear from me Student,” replied the Pulse-Master his twisted smile saying anything but. “You are as much a victim of all this as anyone.”
“I am not a Seer,” hissed Sybil in a dangerous whisper. “I would never become involved in something so pathetic.”
“Maybe not willingly,” replied Darren. “But if you were a Seer your actions over the last few days make sense. Your sympathy for the girl in the mine, letting this boy go…” he tapped the picture with his spare hand, his other one still occupied with slowly drilling through the table. “Master Sooth has even reported that you are showing a reluctance in disciplining the Wyverns. Seers are known to have a special bond with Wyverns… Do they ever talk to you Student?”
He leaned back, his expression saying that he was disinterested in the conversation, but his eyes staring at her intensely.
Sybil began to feel sweat form on her upper lip. She moved a hand to wipe it away. Blood glistened on her fingers. Her heart pounded. The Pulse-Master raised his eyebrows.
“You are bleeding, Student,” he remarked.
“Must have been the wind or something,” Sybil stammered, brushing off the blood with her fingers. Why had she worn a dress? There was nowhere to wipe her fingers. In the breast pocket of the Pulse-Master’s uniform, she could see a handkerchief, but he did not offer it to her. Instead, he just stared in that relaxed, idle fashion that never reached his eyes.
“As a citizen of the Skylands, you may reject the offer of a Pulse Probe, but I would recommend that you don’t,” he said offhandedly.
Sybil seized at the words, desperate to divert attention from her bleeding nose. She had never prophesied, the Probe could not prove she was a Seer. She crushed the thought instantly. She was not a Seer. There was nothing to prove, she’d never been involved in any experiments, the nosebleeds were unrelated. They were caused by something else. They had to be. It would be a routine scan. She looked directly into the intense eyes of the Pulse-Master before her. “I’ll do it.”
The room they led Sybil into was cushioned on every surface. The plain goose feather pillows were torn in several places- a testament to a Probe that had not gone well. Sybil steeled herself and walked to the room’s centre. The door closed softly behind her. Sybil waited nervously, the comforting beat of the Pulse sounding in her ears. Then the Pulse surged forth, growing to a deafening roar that she could barely comprehend. She forced herself to stay still. The Pulse screamed in her ears, coming closer and closer, hunting her mind. Then the security system of the Island of Svan entered her. Instantly her vision split, as it had when she had entered the mind of the Wyvern, only now Sybil was on the receiving end. Her mind felt like it was being violated, a dirty, oily tendril leaching into it, rifling through her memories. She shivered, trying to resist the urge to vomit as nausea entered her mind, falling slowly through her throat to her stomach. She didn’t move. She couldn’t move, or else it would start all over again. In front of her, images of the Seer she had captured flickered through her mind’s eye. She watched his pain as she slammed him into the wall, his shock as she did it again, his fear at the arrival of the Guardians. Her behaviour had been perfect, Sybil knew. But the Probe didn’t stop. It kept searching, images of her conversation with Sam springing across her vision. Sybil panicked. Would it know what she had felt in the mines? The visions moved forward, their pace seeming to increase, as if it knew there was something she did not want it to see. Sybil could feel blood pounding in her veins, could feel her stomach lurching from fear and nausea. Could the Probe feel it too? She couldn’t let them know. She couldn’t. She was not a Seer, could never be a Seer, it wasn’t possible, she couldn’t have them thinking that…
Without another thought she embraced the Pulse, the full screaming, hammering depth of it. The entirety of the security system of the Island of Svan, within her grasp. Blood began to flow down her lips, a trickle at first but then increasing as Sybil drew in more and more of the power behind the Island of Svan. She screamed in pain as the Pulse rocketed through her, burning like fire through her mind, its every oily tendril turning to flames. In the distance she could hear the pounding of feet as Guardians rushed towards the room where she stood. She pulled the Pulse towards her, trying to use it, to mould its beat to her will. But it had its own will and it fought against her. Sybil almost lost her footing in shock. More than the nausea, more than the burning pain of an entire Island’s concentrated Pulse, this hit her. The Pulse did not have a will. She backtracked, following the beat of the burning flames which fed on her mind, trying desperately to find its source. It had to be the Pulse-Master, controlling the Probe from beyond, using it to search for her memories. An image of the Drum flashed in front of her eyes and then a room and within it the largest power shard she had ever seen, the size of a child’s fist. Suddenly, Sybil heard the door slam open, people sprinting towards her. She opened her eyes. Then a Guardian was there, pulling her away from the centre of the room. The burning beat of the Pulse cut off and her double vision snapped back into one. Suddenly, her legs gave way and Sybil collapsed, falling onto the cushioned floor. She landed awkwardly, twisting her wrist and she gave a yelp of pain.
“Get her up!” commanded the Pulse-Master from before, his face creased with worry. “Get her out of this room!” Sybil looked back as a Guardian lifted her, her head hanging limply from his arms. Behind her, the room was a ruin.
Sybil stared at the cracked mirror across from her bed. Blood still stained the very edges of the broken glass, unnoticeable, unless you knew it was there. It glistened faintly in the dull light of the bulb above her head. Her head pounded in pain, but she ignored it. There had been too much emotion already today. She was not sure if she could handle even mild annoyance. She surveyed the facts. The Probe, she knew, had been invented in 105 AE as a reaction against Future Storm insurgents. It had successfully stopped any from infiltrating the upper echelons of the Drum, the military or Tommen’s Hall. It had been integrated into the Island of Svan’s security system and transferred memories from the one being interrogated to the one doing the interrogation. It was designed so even those without the Pulse could use it. So how could it have a will?
It couldn’t, she knew it couldn’t, it wasn’t possible. But if it was… then it would know far more than just the memories, it would know how she had felt in the mines, how she had felt when she had let that Seer go… She stood up suddenly, staring at her fragmented reflection in the mirror. She was going to find out what they knew.
Sybil stepped off the Board and onto the platform, ignoring the stares from the Fortunate behind her. It was evening, everyone was travelling home, not towards, the Drum. She had no reason to be here, especially not in the grey uniform she wore. She tried to look like she knew what she was doing.
“Sybil?” a voice carried across the wind. Sybil turned, a look of mild annoyance crossing her face. Across the plaza, Sam hurried towards her.
“I was looking for you,” he said, by way of introduction.
“What is it Sam?” Sybil asked impatiently.
Sam lowered his voice. “I heard you were taken to Svan.”
Sybil’s breath caught in her throat. How did he know already? She had to destroy those records, now. She brushed past Sam.
“That is none of your concern, Guardian,” she sniffed.
“You are my concern, Sybil,” Sam replied, his voice serious. Sybil frowned. She had always known Sam liked her a little more than was proper for a Guardian. She shook her head. She couldn’t afford to be distracted by such things now.
“Please leave me, Sam,” she said, in the coldest tone possible. “I have work to attend to.”
She tried to move past him but he stepped to his right, blocking her path.
“Why were you in Svan, Sybil?” he asked again.
Sybil could feel eyes beginning to stare at them. Over the din of the crowd and the beat of the Pulse, she thought she could hear whispering. This was not going to plan.
She pulled Sam towards a sheltered corner of the Drum, a marble alcove set with a statue of Adonijah, the first Pulse-Master.
“It was a routine check, Sam,” she lied, her voice firm despite her nerves.
“Nobody goes to Svan for a routine check, Sybil.”
“It’s none of your business.”
“You keep missing this Sybil,” answered Sam. “You are my business. What’s going on?”
“I can’t tell you, don’t you see?!” Sybil almost shouted in frustration. “This is something I have to take care of on my own!”
“It’s about your nosebleeds isn’t it?”
Sybil started. How had he known about those?
“Don’t give me that look,” Sam continued. “I know you think you’ve covered them up, but you can’t hide things like that from me Sybil. These things… They only bother you so much because you don’t talk about them. They eat away at you because you do not let anyone in. Let me in Sybil, please, I can help.”
Sybil felt her resolve begin to weaken. Sam had always cared so much, too much. Would it hurt to let him know a little more?
“I’m trying to get into the Security Library,” she blurted out. She regretted it as soon as she said it. Entering the Security Library without permission was a capital offense. She was putting both their lives in danger by telling him. Shock flooded Sam’s face.
“The Probe went that badly?” he asked.
“You have no idea,” answered Sybil, the words suddenly coming out in a torrent. “They think I’m a Seer Sam! Everything I do seems to convince them that I’m cursed with the power of Prophecy. I have to know what else they know, I can’t just let this lie; I can’t just wait around until the day they come to take me away…” Her hands were trembling in fear now and she stared at them, using the opportunity to avoid Sam’s gaze. She wanted to be held by him, to ask for his help as she had all those years ago when her teachers had pushed them both through their training so quickly, when they’d only had each other to rely on. But Sam had broken under the strain of it and she hadn’t been able to mend him. His career had led him to an inferior role within society and she had left him behind. “I have to go,” she said.
Sam did not try to stop her this time, but laid one hand on her shoulder as she passed. “Then let me help you,” he said.
Sybil and Sam slipped around the side of the Drum, keeping to the shadows as they rounded the training grounds. The Security Library lay in the west wing, underneath one of the secondary domes. It was a little extravagant for a library, but she guessed it was justified given that it housed every secret kept in the Skylands. Beside her, Sam moved quietly, having long since discarded his chainmail vest, he wore only a white tabard atop plain woollen trousers. His stealth had surprised Sybil and she wondered how much else she had missed when she had left the Guardians. They came to a corner and knelt beside the white plaster. On the other side was the entrance to the western side of the building. Sam pointed towards the edge and held two fingers up, pointing north. Sybil nodded and Sam stepped around the corner.
“There’s been a Breach on the northern side of the Drum!” he shouted, his voice panicked.
There was silence and then the steady clink and clank of chainmail as the Guardians rushed after him. They did not question his words. Sam was far too highly ranked for that. They merely followed and obeyed. Sybil waited until she could no longer hear them and then wrapped her scarf around the bottom half of her face, rounded the corner and stepped into the gloom of the Drum.
Light shone around Elijah as he soared through the sky. On either side, the Wyvern’s wings beat powerfully. He did not steer the Wyvern, he didn’t even know if he could, but it knew where to go. Either that or it was taking him into the middle of nowhere to die. Knowing his luck lately, he wouldn’t be surprised. Below him, the Wyvern shook violently, almost flinging him off. Elijah clung even tighter to it, his fingers clasped along its long, scaly neck. They aimed for the northern side of the island, the opposite end to where he had entered before. Something about a dozen Pulse-Masters being ready to blow him out of the sky otherwise. Ash had said they were beefing up the security where he had entered before, a weak point not even the Future Storm had known of. But he guessed it was difficult to get a handle on weak points when your enemy literally had the upper hand.
Gradually, the bottom of the Skylands came into view, its rigid earthen structure frozen forever by the same shield that forced the Wyvern to zig-zag around it. Elijah gritted his teeth as he was tossed from side to side by the Wyvern’s movements, his fingers loosening with each jolt. He pressed himself closer to the creature’s body, as if he could melt into it. Why was it that only the Skylanders had thought to make saddles for these things? The wind stung his skin and ripped at his robes and he very badly wanted to be absolutely anywhere else. Why couldn’t the Skylands just be a little bit closer to the ground? Was that really so much to ask?
The Wyvern continued its insane zig-zag pattern, moving in with each zig and up with each zag until they were level with the edge of the Island. Elijah reached out a glowing hand towards the grass, desperately trying to reach something that felt solid. Then, with a sharp twist, the Wyvern moved underneath him, flinging him off. Elijah screamed as he hung in the air for a minute before landing in a tumble on the grassy edge. He stumbled to his feet, just in time to see three Guardians sprinting towards him.
Oh, what a brilliant spot to drop him off this was. Suddenly, he felt his arms slam to his side. He’d forgotten the Guardians had damn magical powers on their side. The Guardian controlling the Pulse stood still, concentrating furiously as the remaining two charged towards him.
‘Well, this was perhaps the least successful attack of all time,’ Elijah thought grimly as they thundered closer. He struggled against his bonds, the bright light of the timeline seeming to flicker just at the edge of his vision, fear overwhelming whatever ability he had. The Guardians leapt atop him, pinning him to the ground. One had a sword out, the long blade sliding against his throat. They’d invented skyscrapers, light bulbs and sound boxes since the discovery of the Pulse. You’d have thought they’d have a better way to kill someone than with a sharp piece of metal. Elijah struggled against the two of them, but he was powerless with his arms pinned to his side. Then, suddenly, his body exploded into light. He saw the Guardian’s eyes widen as crystal claws grabbed his Pulse wielding companion, flinging him off the edge. The Guardian screamed in terror as he plummeted to his death and suddenly Elijah’s arms were free. The two Guardians hadn’t expected this and Elijah wriggled from their grasp, kicking one of them in the head as he did so. The man with the sword growled, rubbing his temple, and dived at Elijah. The Wyvern grabbed him mid-dive, his feet thrashing uselessly in the air as it threw him into the expanse below. The final Guardian stared at Elijah in terror. And Elijah suddenly found that his own terror no longer mattered. The funny thing about scaring others is that it always means that they scare you less. Generally speaking, that’s usually the whole point. The timeline was there now, flowing through the Guardian in front of him. Elijah reached out with whatever hidden limb seemed to operate within him and grabbed it.
“They think it was the miners; that they dug too deeply and too greedily.”
Elijah looked out across a sea of people. He stood in a huge circular room. At one end of the circle was a raised dais, rectangular in shape and towering twelve feet above the ground. Eight people sat behind it. Before the dais, long benches radiated outwards in a fan shaped pattern. The rows started close to the ground so the closest occupants had to crane their necks upwards to see the eight figures seated behind the rectangular marble block. Over one hundred people were crowded into these rows which gradually rose in elevation until the last row at the back was at the same level as the sheer rectangular dais against the back wall. All the people were very angry.
“We demand justice!” the man closest to Elijah roared, squinting across the room at the eight figures who were clearly in charge. “Let us hang the man who leads these mines!”
There was a chorus of agreement. “We cannot simply -”, began one of the eight but he was rapidly cut off by a chorus of outrage by the assembled masses. They did not like the sound of ‘cannot’. The man sighed and looked apologetically at a woman beside him. She nodded, waved her hand and suddenly the man’s voice filled the Hall. “We cannot kill the mine’s foreman. He died in the Fall, just as all on the Island of Carthos. Rescue teams have been dispatched, but no survivors have yet been found.”
The mutterings became more sullen, as if the mob were a spoiled child who had just been informed that the world had run out of sweets.
“Where was he from?” one of the women in the Hall shouted out. “His city should be forced to pay tribute for this tragedy!”
“He was from Prazna -”, began one of the eight leaders.
“Forget tribute, let’s raze their city to the ground!” interrupted another in the Hall.
“I don’t think that would be a measured response -”
“I don’t care about measured, my wife died in the Fall, do you think her killers took a measured approach when they decided to bring down an entire Island of people?!” shouted another voice from beside Elijah.
“My people tell me that the mine that caused the Fall was worked entirely by Earthlanders!” shouted another woman. “First they refuse to pay our efficiency tax, now they kill thousands of us and you’re just going to stand by?”
There was a roar of agreement from the assembled masses.
“Are you suggesting that those miners deliberately caused the Fall? Knowing that it would mean their deaths?” asked one of the leaders sceptically.
“I’m telling you that’s what happened! Have you been to the site of the Fall, Answerer?” asked the widower, his tone contriving to turn the title into an insult. “The blood of thousands still soaks the ground! You are deluded if you think this wasn’t a deliberate attack!”
The crowd shouted in agreement. Suddenly, they had someone to blame. That was all they needed. The eight leaders tried to restore order but soon they too were sucked into the frenzy, unwilling to speak against the overwhelming tide of hate. Steadily, from the incoherent but very single minded babble came the sounds of a decision being made.
Elijah couldn’t say exactly when they decided to begin the war. There was no grand statement. As is the way of such terrible decisions, none of the leaders wanted to take responsibility for it. But suddenly the discussion changed from whether the war should begin to the strategy behind it. To whether Aubrey should face the invasion first, due to their wealth, or whether it should be Prazna because of the foreman. Eventually they seemed to settle on Ekriam for the single brutal reason that none of the other Earthlands were likely to support them. The eight leaders strode from the room to begin the production of the battle plans. Then the vision faded.
Suddenly Elijah was back in the real world and staring at a very real Guardian bearing down on him with all the force that you would expect from a two hundred pound man waving a heavy piece of metal. Elijah was confused for a second, disorientated by the change in the environment. Then he saw the timeline flowing through the Guardian and felt its power chorusing through him. He threw the energy at the man, who raised a single hand to protect himself, his eyes filled with fear. Then his hand disappeared, the skin wrinkling before falling off in layers, revealing bone and dust. He screamed, collapsing to the ground, his brain refusing to comprehend the magnitude of his pain. Elijah stepped towards him and tapped his head with the toe of his shoe. He was unconscious. His arm ended in a jagged, withered bone just below the elbow that sent a shiver of revulsion running down Elijah’s spine. He turned his back on the body, facing the huge bronze dome of the Drum. He couldn’t afford to feel any sympathy for him. There could be no half-measures, not now. Somewhere, Truth was waiting for him. The attack began now.
Sybil crept slowly through the Drum, her heart pounding. Sweat beaded on her forehead, dripping down to sting her eyes. Her scarf felt itchy around the bottom half of her face. All was silent in the Drum. With Guardians stationed at every entrance, there was no need for security within the Drum itself. Then, as if to contradict her, she began to hear voices.
“I don’t understand what the point is, is all,” grumbled one of the voices. “It’s just a library. Why’s it need all this special attention?”
Sybil ducked back into a corridor, cursing silently to herself. There was not supposed to be anyone here. This was supposed to be simple and devoid of witnesses. This complicated things.
“We’re lucky to have this job and you know it, Tom,” a female voice answered the first. “Why Dave here barely made Fortunate. What would happen if we stopped being useful? Sure we’d all be down to Beggers in a flash.”
Sybil smiled thinly. They were only Fortunate, not a problem for her. She listened for the beat of the Pulse, keeping it low so that she did not alert any of them. When Sybil struck, they were powerless to resist. She let the Pulse grow to a fast, rhythmic beat and threw it directly at the three. It was not a pretty attack, but Sybil was in no mood for aesthetics. Two of the Fortunate collapsed instantly as the wall behind them exploded in a sea of broken white marble. The third dived to their left, her eyes widening, her hands bleeding. She had sensed the change in the Pulse. Sybil quickly stepped out. She couldn’t afford for the alarm to be raised. Moving more delicately, she directed the Pulse around the third Fortunate, covering her eyes and mouth and slamming her limbs together. The Fortunate collapsed, falling straight as a pencil against the wall. Sybil’s feet crunched on the broken white marble as she walked towards the corridor’s entrance. She knocked the third Fortunate out as she passed, just for good measure. The corridor extended out towards a huge, thick wooden door, lit by twelve lights inset into the ceiling above. The door was Pulse-made; Sybil could feel the air around it vibrating, reacting to its energy. It would not go down easily. She took a deep breath. Sybil would use it against itself. She listened intently and let the Pulse fill her with its thunderous, constant beat. She let it get louder than she had ever let it before. If there was anyone near her they would hear it instantly, but she was alone. She let the Pulse build, let it grow louder and louder until it hurt. She squeezed her eyes shut in pain and drew in still more. The Pulse rushed through her and she threw it at the door. It crashed into it like a wave against rocks, the force of the blast warping the air around her and forcing Sybil back even as the door sucked it in, expanding and growing steadily. All around her, she heard the grown and creak of stone as the corridor around her strained against the growing door. Then the marble cracked. Sybil sprinted back the way she had come, her vision blurring from the fatigue of the Pulse. Above her, the ceiling came crashing down, individual light bulbs shattering as the structure collapsed before her. She smiled thinly. Wooden Pulse-made doors expanded when they were attacked with the raw impact of the Pulse. Finally, a use for Pulse Observation. Sybil shook her head, dispelling her fatigue. In and out, that was all this would be. She stepped over the broken marble and into a cloud of dust.
Sybil had expected a small room, filled with stacks of reports, neatly filed according to date. She had not expected the cavernous hall before her. The room smelled stagnant, used, like an ancient tomb which had only just been opened. On Sybil’s left a huge window, held together by thin intersections of metal, showed the evening sky. At the far end stood a huge, golden throne, framed by thick volumes of books which teetered beside it. Below her feet a lustrous red carpet lined the ground and above her a bronze dome hung, covered with frescoes of the Conquest. In the centre of the room stood a pillar and atop it a huge power shard the size of a child’s fist. Exactly like the one she’d seen during her interrogation. She began to walk towards it and reached out one hand. Then she stopped. This was too easy.
“Why do you hesitate, Sybil?” an old, gravelly voice asked. Sybil turned.
Behind her stood an old man, whose withered face hung unexpectedly on a strong, firmly muscled body. He wore an embroidered robe, richly designed but about three centuries out of fashion. A red cloak seemed to creep around his body, as if trying to swallow it.
“How do you know my name?” asked Sybil.
“I know a lot of things about a lot of people,” chuckled the old man. “More than most people suspect, I suspect. Oh they keep me here, lock me away in this dusty old library and think they can forget all about me. But I remember them. I remember all of them.”
Sybil reached for the Pulse on instinct, her body seeking its comforting beat. But the usually steady beat was erratic and she couldn’t grasp it. She stepped away instead, backing away from the shining power shard in the centre of the room.
“Oh don’t be like that,” crooned the old man. And suddenly Sybil felt the Pulse seize her, not the general beat of the Pulse that surrounds all things but the very beat that she controlled, the one that she had to sync with the great beat of the Pulse in order to mould it to her will.
Her eyes widened. She couldn’t move. She could feel the Pulse suddenly stiffening around her limbs. She turned her head to look again at the old man who was staring at her with a terrifying intensity.
“Who are you?” she asked, her voice strained with fear.
“Take the power shard, Sybil,” the old man said, his voice made of steel.
With a sinking feeling of horror and despair, Sybil looked at the man whose face she had seen stamped on every coin. The man who her own island was named after. The man who had discovered the Pulse, who had tamed the Wyverns, who had founded the Skylands: Tommen the Great.
Elijah paced quickly through the Drum, his gaze darting suspiciously around the hallway. He’d hoped for sign posts or something. A sign like ‘Security System Here, Please Turn This Way to Free Captured Slaves’ would be real useful right now. He continued pacing down the never ending corridor, looking for signs every time he passed a junction. Then he saw the bodies. Three Guardians, he guessed, although their long grey robes were different to the chainmail vests the Guardians usually clanked about in. He didn’t think the Future Storm had sent anyone else, but hey, security guards for a security system? It fit pretty well. He turned down the corridor, stepping over broken chunks of rock and around a huge, wooden door. The first thing he saw when he entered the room was the girl who had captured him. She stood over a pillar, one arm straining towards a huge glowing power shard which floated just above the pillar in the centre of the room. The power shard, that’s what controlled this Island’s Security System. If he took that, The Future Storm would be free to begin their attack and free his sister. He began to run towards it.
“Stop!” roared the girl. It was only now that Elijah noticed the strain on her face as she seemed to try to fight against some invisible force, one arm pulling the other one back as it strained for the power shard. Skylanders. Elijah had always suspected that if you left them alone long enough they would begin to fight themselves. But something about the panic and terror in the girl’s eyes stayed Elijah’s hand. He followed her gaze. And then jumped a mile through the roof. Behind him, stood the ugliest creature he’d ever seen. He was pretty sure it was human, a man even, but his face had become so ancient and withered by the passing of the ages it looked like one giant wrinkle. One eye seemed to squint at Elijah. That wasn’t what was so hideous though. Elijah had seen old, it was natural, normal, nothing wrong with that. It was the body the head was planted on, young and athletic, even slightly tanned. The combination looked like some particularly mean spirited child had decided to play attack of the killer mutants with his little sister’s doll set.
“I wasn’t expecting you,” said the man, his eyes narrowing. “You who will break the Wyvern’s wings.”
“OK…” replied Elijah. He didn’t really have much to say to that.
“You are a danger to us all,” tutted the man. “You will destroy this world.”
The surety in the man’s tone sent a shiver down Elijah’s spine. The man’s eyes stared intensely at him, they were yellowed and bloodshot and he seemed to be wrestling with some internal struggle. Then he straightened and spread his arms wide, encompassing the whole room, seeming to have come to some sort of a decision.
“But never mind that,” he smiled, a terrifying action that peeled several layers of skin back across his face. “You have come for a reason, no doubt.”
“Yeah…” replied Elijah uncertainly, staring at the power shard with a great deal more nervousness than he had before.
“Don’t do it,” grunted the girl through gritted teeth, even as her own fingers inched ever closer to it.
Elijah looked at the girl, then he looked at the man. It wasn’t hard to see who was the villain here. The girl may have captured him and tried to get his tongue cut out once before… but she had also let him go once before. Plus she didn’t look like a cross between an athlete on a special herbal remedy and a skeleton. But none of that mattered. Because somewhere, on this Island, Truth was suffering in a mine and this power shard was the key to setting her free. He reached out a hand and grabbed it.
The effect was immediate. The wail of the Siren sliced through the air, beating Elijah’s ear drums into a pulp.
“You fool!” roared the girl. “What have you done?!”
“I’ve no idea!” shouted Elijah.
“Thank you!” howled the old man in glee. “You have granted me the freedom I have craved for so long. I know it must seem terribly ungrateful, but regrettably I must now kill you, Elijah.”
Elijah barely had a second to register that the creepy old man knew his name and then he was flying across the room. He fell, every sensitive part of his body contriving to bounce across the carpet floor as he did so. He groaned and sat up, staring at the old man who looked at him with undisguised hatred.
“Unfortunately, you are not part of the plan.” he said.
Elijah didn’t know what plan the old man had but he didn’t like it. He shook his head, rage filling him. The timeline flickered in front of his eyes and he turned, preparing to take hold of it and throw it at the old man, but instead the girl stood before him, her eyes wide, terrified.
“Get out of the way you stupid Seer, get out of the way!” she screamed. Elijah dived to his left and the wall behind him exploded inwards, shards flying out like a thousand arrows.
“What in the unknown name of the Islands?” he muttered. The girl’s face was terrified, her movement’s jerky and constrained. He glanced across at the old man who was smiling thinly.
“It’s not me!” the girl shouted. “He’s doing it, I don’t know how, but he’s doing it!”
Elijah turned towards the old man, preparing to release all his strength. And then he was flung back, his body skidding across the cold floor. He rose groggily.
“Your foolishness would cost us the world,” growled the old man at the centre of the room. “I will protect this world from the madness of your kind.”
“You stupid Seer, run!” shouted the girl. Elijah flung himself to one side as suddenly the wall exploded inwards, huge chunks of marble falling to crush where he had lay.
Elijah growled in rage. He would kill this man. He mightn’t have had any great love for the girl currently beating the living crap out of him but at least when she attacked him, she did it herself. But the old man wasn’t even looking at him. Well that was just rude. Instead, he stared out the window, at a sky that had just turned white.
Sybil stared out the window, Hesther’s words screeching through her mind.[_ ‘Beware the meeting. Beware when the sky turns white for then your loyalties shall be tested.’ _]Well, it was a little late for that now. Outside, thousands of Wyverns flew towards them, their great, leathery wings blocking out the sun. Sybil stared in awe. She hadn’t even known that many Wyverns existed. Around her, the beat of the Pulse screamed in pain. That was the only word for it. The Pulse itself was suffering. Behind her, she could hear the sound of dozens of Guardians sprinting towards them. It was time to go. She turned towards the only exit and began running towards the Guardians.
“You will stay here,” Tommen snarled and Sybil froze instantly, her limbs bound by her own Pulse. Then the ground began to shake. Tommen and Sybil both fell to the floor and Sybil was free. She rolled across the ground and rose to her feet. Outside, the Wyverns had begun glowing with a soft, brilliant white light, their crystal structures seeming to meld together in the evening sky. Sybil sprinted towards the exit, using the Pulse to fling away the first few Guardians that burst through the door. But there were too many of them. Sybil felt a sharp thump to her head as if she had just been punched. She snarled at the Guardian who was inexpertly trying to wield the Pulse. Scum like her shouldn’t even be allowed near it. Shouting in fury, she flung the Pulse at the Guardian, rotating the Pulse faster and faster through the air until it burse into a pillar of fire. The flames engulfed the Guardian and she went down screaming. But still they came, pouring through the door towards her. Sybil kicked the first that reached her, still trying to destroy those behind him with the Pulse. But the kick had no effect on the Guardian’s thick chainmail. He grabbed her wrist. Sybil tried to pull it away, but suddenly he had her, locking her arms behind her, he kicked her legs out from under her. She fell to the ground with a crash, the Guardian pinning her. She felt suffocated beneath his sweaty chainmail and she struggled desperately. Then she felt the weight lift off her, the Guardian screaming as he was flung away from her by crystal claws. She looked up and saw the face of her rescuer. It was the Seer from before, glowing brightly atop a Wyvern.
“Get on!!” he shouted at her. Sybil stared. He was a Seer, a harbinger of death, of destruction. She looked back at the Guardians who were sprinting towards her, then at Tommen. She looked too long. Suddenly, she felt Tommen seize control of her body, she opened her mouth to shout a warning, but the Seer already seemed to know. He stared at Tommen, intense hatred filling his eyes. And then the Seer was talking almost too fast to hear, but throughout the babble, one phrase could be heard again and again. “The Bridge will open!” he roared. “The Bridge will open! The Bridge will open!” Tommen screamed, his robes turning to dust around him, his skin melting off his bones. Sybil didn’t stick around to watch his horrific demise. She jumped on top of the Wyvern’s back and turned to the Seer.
“Let’s go!” she shouted.
The Seer nodded and the Wyvern ran towards the window, it’s translucent, leathery wings scraping along the tiles as it built up speed. Below them, the floor began to shake even more violently, throwing the Guardians around the room, but the Wyvern deftly kept its footing. Outside, the glow from the other Wyverns was getting brighter and brighter and Sybil had to shield her eyes from the light.
[‘What was going on?’ _]she thought in wonder. [‘Wyverns attacking the Skylands?’ ]It was unfathomable, like being bitten by a door. [‘And why was this one helping them?’ _]None of this made any sense. The Wyvern’s wings began to beat and Sybil covered her head with her scarf as they crashed through the room’s huge glass window, pieces of glass and lead shattering all around her.The sound of screeching Wyverns filled the night air as they left the Skylands. The Wyvern flew over the clustered beasts and Sybil desperately grabbed the waist of the Seer in front of her. She glanced back towards her home, trying to catch a last glimpse of the only world she had ever known. And then she saw it. The entire Island was a bright, glowing white. It was covered in Wyverns, like lichen growing over a rock. And it was shaking, the Orock skyscrapers wobbling unsteadily, the Drum itself collapsing inwards as its stone structure was cracked by the tremors. Sybil felt a hollow fear deep in the pit of her stomach. What had she done?
Then the Wyvern suddenly barrelled downwards and Sybil held her breath, feeling her stomach flip over, trying to resist the urge to punish the Wyvern for its incompetent flying abilities. In front of her, her rescuer screamed like a baby. The Wyvern shot downwards, increasing in speed, as if daring her to scream. She clung harder to the Seer in front of her. When they at last reached the ground, Sybil’s hands were clenched so tightly around his waist that he had to pry them loose. Sybil shook slightly as she dismounted and took her first steps into the Earthlands. She stared back at the Skylands, each of the proud islands hovering above her was covered in Wyverns, as if infected by some sort of disease. The Pulse was still there, but it felt distant now, weaker. Suddenly, she felt a flash of pain and she fell to the ground clutching her head. Her nose began bleeding slowly. She groaned. It felt like the Pulse itself was trying to bore into her brain. Then it was gone. She looked up at the Islands above her. The Pulse was gone. Suddenly, there was a flash of light and she heard the Wyverns above her collectively screech, flying out from the islands. Behind her, she heard the one that had rescued her moan in sorrow. The Pulse returned and she knew the security system was back online. The Sky would not fall today. Her home was safe. She brought a finger to her nose, wiping away the blood. It was dark in the night sky. Now it no longer mattered if she was a Seer, now she was an outcast.
He was going to kill Ash for this. She had known this was coming, she had had to. There had never been any intention of rescuing the slaves. He didn’t know what those Wyverns had been doing but they had not been rescuing people. Everything he’d done had been for nothing! And the attack or whatever it was hadn’t even worked. He wanted to scream in frustration. He turned back around and looked at his new companion. She was pretty, he’d give her that. Why, if it wasn’t for the fact her entire people were set on killing him, he might even like her. As it was, she would just have to settle for a cold, calculating stare.
“Why are you squinting at me?” she asked brusquely.
“Why are you always trying to kill me?” retorted Elijah, keeping his face cold and calculated.
“That… that was Tommen,” the girl answered.
“Tommen…” Elijah muttered and then realisation struck. “Wait Tommen the Great? Founder of the Skylands, tamer of the Wyverns, that Tommen? I thought he was dead!” Although if there was anyone he was ready to believe was two hundred years old, it was that withered face.
“Yeah, well so did everyone else,” answered the girl calmly.
“How….” spluttered Elijah, “how is that even possible?”
“I don’t know Seer, how is that you have an army of Wyverns?” She said the word with a sneer, as if spitting it out of her mouth.
“It’s not my army,” answered Elijah absently. “And my name is Elijah not Seer.”
“And I am Sybil,” replied the girl. “It is done. Names have been exchanged. Now in accordance with the Peace Treaty of Solem, you may grant me shelter.”
“Not a problem,” replied Elijah. “As soon as you start explaining what is going on.”
Suddenly, he felt an invisible force punch him in the side of the head. He was getting real sick of this Pulse stuff.
“You shall do as is bound by the Treaties and required of the Sky,” Sybil commanded imperiously.
Elijah rubbed his head. “That’s not a very nice way to treat someone -”
“You will obey!” commanded Sybil, although her voice seemed to have lost some of its confidence.
“I just saved your life! If there’s anyone who’s going to help anyone with anything it’s you going to help me understand what is going on! How is the man who founded the Skylands two centuries ago still alive? And why did he want me to destroy your islands’ security system? And where is my sister?”
Sybil paled, but didn’t back down. “I could kill you in a second, Seer,” she replied.
“Oh yeah? And then where would you be? Stuck in the middle of the desert with the Skylands chasing you.”
Sybil seemed to wrestle with the natural Skylander instinct for being secretive all the time and then she sighed and nodded.
“I don’t know everything…” she said. “I’m still trying to work it out. But I don’t think anyone back home is going to help me anytime soon. And I guess I can trust you…”
“Was it the whole, saving your life thing that tipped you off?”
Sybil frowned at that. “Why did you do that?”
Elijah swore loudly. “Because you seem to have some sort of idea of what’s going on even if you seem to be incredibly slow to say it!”
Sybil took the point. “I think Tommen can control people who use the Pulse, that’s why they kept him locked away. But that power shard… that hurt him, because it… repels those closely linked to the Pulse… like the Wyverns, which is why it powers the Security System that keeps them away from the bottom of the Skylands. It’s often been theorised that the Wyverns are linked to the Pulse somehow, as they were both discovered after Tommen founded the Skylands. And if Tommen can control everyone who uses the Pulse,” her eyes widened. “He could use it to take over the whole Skylands.”
“So let me get this straight. Tommen is like some sort of evil puppet master and the Pulse is like the string he uses to control you. And that giant power shard, it cuts these strings?”
“A little crude, but yes, that’s it.”
Elijah held up the large, glowing power shard. “It’s a good thing I have this then.”
Sybil’s eyes widened. “You kept it? What restarted the security system then?”
Elijah shrugged, pocketing the shard. “I don’t know and I don’t care. I just hope the Future Storm managed to rescue my sister before it restarted.”
Sybil frowned. “Your sister?”
“Little girl, black hair, blue eyes, wearing a silver pendant. Enslaved in the mines. Ringing any bells?”
Sybil’s eyes widened for a fraction of a second. “Never heard of her, there are a lot of people enslaved in the mines.” And then very quickly, she added. “Can you take me to the Future Storm?”
“What do you want to go there for? They’re not exactly your biggest fans.”
Sybil looked up at the Skylands, the Island they had come from still shaking in the aftermath of the Wyvern attack. When she spoke her voice was desperate. “If the Wyverns destroy the Skylands, it’ll mean death for the Earthlands too. It’ll be another Fall, on a far worse scale. The Future Storm must see that.”
It was a short walk from the desert to Prazna and an even shorter one to the tavern that marked the entrance to the Future Storm. The barkeep’s eyebrows rose as he saw Elijah.
“Didn’t expect to see you back here so quickly or so eh… healthily,” he said.
“You know what I want,” replied Elijah.
“I’ll have to check with Ash first,” Aon cautioned.
“You’ve got to be kidding me. Do you know what I’ve just been through for Ash’s favourite cause?”
“Elijah??” an incredulous, shaky voice asked. “You’re alive?”
Elijah turned to see Solomon pacing towards him, a mug of ale in his hands. “Thank the Voice!” he smiled. “After that flash of light and all the Wyverns going berserk, I thought you were dead for sure!”
Then a lot of things fell into place for Elijah. The first wild Wyvern he had ever seen had brought him to a weak point unknown to even the Skylanders themselves. When he and Solomon had fallen from the Skylands, he had known a Wyvern would be there. Ignoring all the others of his kind, that same Wyvern had rescued him from the Skylands. That Wyvern hadn’t changed. It had always been the same one. He grabbed Solomon by the shoulders and slammed him back against the bar.
“You knew!” he bellowed. “You knew the Wyverns were coming, you knew they were going to try destroy the Skylands, you knew and you didn’t tell me!”
Suddenly, everyone in the tavern was staring at them. The barkeep’s eyes were panicked, his face white. “Had too much to drink!” he yelled, his false cheer failing to halt the stares of the other patrons. “I’ll just bring them around here to sober them up,” he finished, his voice tinged with desperation. The silence continued.
Quickly, he led them all down into the basement, not even looking at Sybil, he beat out the password and turned from them, running back up the stairs to try and reassure his customers that there was in no way some sort of secret underground resistance operating inside of his tavern. In front of Elijah, the doors of the Future Storm opened and they all walked through.
When they reached the cavern, Elijah strode straight up to Ash, pushing Solomon ahead of him.
“I have a bone to pick with you, Ash!” he bellowed as they walked in. “You knew about the Wyverns! You and Solomon! You’ve been plotting with them somehow, talking with them. This has never been about Truth! You’ve been using me!”
Ash glanced up, taking in the group with one look, and then ushered away the commanders she had been talking to. “You brought a Student of the Drum here??” she asked, her voice colder than ice.
Elijah ignored her and kept walking.
“I am sick of being lied to Ash!” he shouted, his words echoing in the cavern.
Ash lifted two fingers and crossed them together. Suddenly, dozens of soldiers flooded the room, aiming for Sybil. They collapsed before they even reached her, Sybil pushing them back with an intense look of concentration. Elijah kept shouting. “You never wanted to rescue my sister! You never wanted to rescue anyone!”
Suddenly, a wind spun through the cavern, lifting Elijah from the ground and flinging him into the air.
“Do not be so arrogant, young Seer!” Ash bellowed as Elijah spun in the tornado. “This is nothing to do with you! The Wyverns betrayed all of us! They tricked us, using us all for their own ends!”
The winds faded and Elijah collapsed to the ground, his stomach heaving. Around him, the soldiers had finally managed to overpower Sybil. Ash strode towards them regarding Elijah with cold eyes. “I should kill you for bringing one such as her here,” she snarled.
[Hold your hand, Ash. _]A voice echoed through Elijah’s mind. Half of the people in the cavern turned suddenly. The soldiers did not appear to notice. _You will need this one before the end.
Elijah breathed slowly, gasping for breath on the floor. Had he hit his head or something? He touched his hair, tenderly, feeling for blood. Dried flakes crumbled under his fingers. He [_had _]hit his head. But that was when Tommen had hit him. This… this felt real.
It was only then that Elijah noticed he was glowing. Before him stood the Wyvern that he had escaped with. It had left him and Sybil in the desert. How had it made its way to the Future Storm?
“You…” Ash snarled, staring at the Wyvern. “You betrayed us.” The Wyvern regarded her coolly, its voice echoing in Elijah’s mind.
I am sorry, Ash. I did try to stop them. The Prophecy of Origin did not speak of their actions.
“I lost twelve soldiers and a Seer in that attack, Xanthius,” Ash growled. “Sorry doesn’t cut it.”
“Who is she talking to?” whispered Sybil beside Elijah, the soldiers pinning her looking just as confused.
“You can’t hear that?” asked Elijah. “It’s the Wyvern.”
“You can’t talk to Wyverns,” hissed Sybil as if it was the most ridiculous notion in the world.
_There is much to discuss, Ash. But now is not the time. _
Suddenly, the sound of the Siren split the night. Ash ran forwards, pulling Elijah up by his collar.
“Who saw you??” she shouted, her eyes blazing. “Your face is plastered across the city and you led them right to us!”
Suddenly, faint screams reached Elijah’s ears, there was a dull thud and then a massive explosion shook the cavern. The terrible sound of cracking rock echoed through the dry air andElijah knew the door to the Future Storm’s base had just been blown in. He turned and saw dozens of Guardians thunder into the cavern.
The first thing Elijah noticed about the attack was the screaming. Brightly glowing Seers sprinted towards the cavern’s many adjoining rooms, desperately trying to hide. Elijah saw one explode into a huge column of fire, then another one and another one. Still others fell to the floor, their limbs snapped to their sides. Amidst it all, Ash bellowed orders, screaming at soldiers to rally and charge the attacking force. The putrid stench of smoke and charred flesh descended on the cavern. The smell was suffocating and Elijah stood in the centre of the room, paralyzed by fear. He thought he could hear Solomon shouting. Then he felt someone pull him away. A fireball exploded against the wall behind him. He looked up and Sybil looked back at him.
“You saved my life,” he gasped.
“Yeah, well now we’re even,” grunted Sybil, her face concentrating. In front of them, dozens of Guardians frowned in frustration.
“I can’t hold them off forever,” she muttered. Elijah was more concerned that they’d give up on the Pulse and switch to more reliable methods of killing people. Like swords. As if in answer to his thoughts, three soldiers came charging towards them, but they were met by the sharp talons of Xanthius.
Elijah grabbed Sybil’s hand, pulling them both towards a nearby cave. Solomon stumbled in after them.
“We can’t just hide here!” hissed Sybil. “We’ll be overrun!”
“Well they’re your friends,” growled Elijah, the shock of being rescued wearing off quickly. “Why don’t you go reason with them?”
“They want to kill me now thanks to someone!” hissed Sybil.
“So it’s my fault your leader’s a psychotic maniac who would have killed us both given half a chance?”
Sybil bit her lip and didn’t answer, her eyes focused on the battle in the main cavern. Seers and soldiers were dying in droves, either consumed in fire or stabbed to death, unable to fight back as the Pulse held them still. Elijah knew he had to help them. The timeline flickered in front of his eyes. Then he felt a hand on his shoulder.
“Wait, young Seer,” Solomon said calmly. “Watch.”
“I can’t just watch!” replied Elijah as, before his eyes, Ash huddled behind a last line of defenders who were desperately trying to fight against a solid wall of fire. He saw fury in the commander’s eyes. A fierce wind suddenly spun through the cavern, a tornado that picked up a dozen Guardians and slammed them into the rock walls. But Ash’s efforts were in vain, there were too many of them. Another wall of fire sprang up in the place of the last one. Elijah saw fear in Ash’s eyes before she and her soldiers were consumed in the flames.
“No!” Elijah shouted. The soldiers panicked and broke ranks and that was it, the battle was over. The last remnants of the Future Storm ran into the many chambers connected to the cavern. Dozens fell as they ran, picked off by a line of crossbow men who emerged from behind the backs of the exhausted Guardians. Blood stained the rocky floor. Suddenly, the Guardians split up, moving into groups of ten, storming every cave connected to the cavern. Beside him, Elijah thought he heard Solomon laugh. Then the Guardians reached them. Solomon was still laughing as a Guardian plunged a sword into his chest. Blood spurted out and he coughed, splattering blood onto Elijah’s face before he died. Elijah reached for the timeline but was unable to concentrate with the Guardians bearing down on him. Sybil screamed and the Guardians were slammed back against the wall, their eyes wide. Only one remained standing. He was wearing a long white robe, different to the other Guardians. He was a Pulse-Master. He wore no chainmail and Sybil stared in terror at him before falling back, her head smashing into the ground. Elijah looked at her beautiful, broken face and the timeline flickered in front of his eyes and disappeared. She mouthed one word: “run”. Elijah panicked, diving to his right and rising up quickly as a torrent of flames consumed where he had been crouching. He sprinted towards the cave’s entrance, but he was too slow. He felt his limbs snap to his side and his legs crumple beneath him. He fell to the ground with a crash, the rocky floor cutting his calf. Behind him, he could hear the footsteps of the Pulse-Master walking towards him. He heard the soft sound of a sword being unsheathed. The Pulse-Master knelt beside him, sword out.
“Do not worry,” he whispered, malice in his eyes. “You will be safer now. We will all be safer now.”
He pinched Elijah’s nose until he was forced to upon his mouth, gasping for breath. With practiced movements, the Pulse-Master jammed his gloved hand into his jaw and held his tongue. The sword descended.
Then the air warped around him. Elijah stared in wonder as the timeline suddenly exploded everywhere. Not just in front of his eyes, but everywhere, flooding the world, springing from every rock, every crevice, every broken, bleeding body. Then the world twisted. Elijah retched, vomiting up what bare food was in his stomach as the fabric of reality twisted his body to its will. He shouted in fear as before his eyes the world transformed. Sybil sat up, the blood clearing from her head, her eyes terrified. The sword left Solomon’s chest, his mouth contorting into a twisted, backward laugh. Around him, the Guardians gestured violently, returning to their positions in front of him before leaving the cave. The world twisted further and Elijah felt his insides protest in pain as he was folded up, shaken and moved around the cavern. Then the pain stopped. Elijah gasped in shock as he found himself suddenly beside the entrance to the Future Storm, the doors remade.
Beside him, Sybil’s eyes widened, her face portraying the most profound terror he had ever seen. In front of him, Solomon laughed. “Witness, my rapt pupil, the true power of the Future Storm.”
“Get everyone out of here!” Ash shouted, commanding almost a hundred Seers and soldiers who moved with military precision. Sybil watched it all in a daze, barely keeping herself from screaming. They had manipulated the timeline! This would destroy them all, if not everyone in Prazna! She was shaking she realised, her hands trembling violently. She took a deep breath, trying to get control of herself. Subconsciously, she brushed a hand across her nose, but there was no blood there. Beside her, Solomon giggled in glee, rubbing his hands together happily.
“You see young Seer,” he gloated. “There is so much more still to teach you!”
“Yeah, well if we can avoid all of us dying next time, that’d be nice,” replied Elijah sourly.
Solomon just giggled again.
“How can you laugh at this?” Sybil demanded.
“We’re alive, and by the time we’re gone they’ll never even know we were here. What’s not to laugh about?” replied Solomon, still giggling like a madman as they followed the main group through the complicated mess of caves.
“They manipulated the timeline!” hissed Sybil, falling into step beside him. “Don’t you know anything about the War on Time? This could destroy everything!”
“I lived through the War on Time, Student,” answered Solomon, his laughter ending and his voice hard. “Do not lecture me on it.”
Sybil’s face turned white. “That was over two hundred and fifty years ago…” she stuttered.
“Oh, well now you’re just being mean,” grumbled Solomon. “Going on about my age and such.”
“You [_cannot _]be that old,” growled Sybil, recovering herself.
Solomon laughed. “You Skylanders have such short, pathetic lives. And to think: you thought you could wipe us all out…” he laughed again and continued to walk through the caves, Elijah walking ahead of them. It was hot and stuffy in the compartments and the atmosphere was heavy and panicked. Some carried torches, but the compartments were still dim and shadowy and the torch’s smoke just made Sybil’s eyes water. Ahead and behind them, dozens of soldiers carried pots and pans in piles that reached up to their chins. Sybil’s mind reeled at the implications: almost a hundred people, ready to leave at a moment’s notice, undetected. How many of the Seers still lived? How many would still need to be Silenced if the world was to stay intact? How many Earthlanders had they enslaved for providing faulty information that had actually been true?
When Sybil got back… this would change the Arrival forever. It might even be enough to save her life. She’d probably be moved to the top of her building, but she could live with an extra few flights of steps as long as she could still breathe. She shook her head. Such dreams were a lie. She was never going back, could never go back. She’d been instrumental in the worst attack on the Skylands since the Fall. They would kill her in a heartbeat. She still couldn’t believe it. Tommen had been alive… it was like, like… like meeting a man who was over two hundred and fifty years old. Life just didn’t make sense any more, she decided. She would have to do something about that.
In front of her, Elijah was ranting again.
“I don’t care how long you’ve been looking for me,” he shouted in aggravation to the air. “Well of course there’s a prophecy about me! [_I’ve _]freaking said prophecies about me! That’s nothing new!”
There was silence and then: “Your kind betrayed me! You were supposed to rescue Truth, you were supposed to rescue all of them.”
Sybil felt a wrench of guilt… his sister. She had undoubtedly been the girl she’d seen die in the mines. Few children were ever enslaved in the mines. Fewer still matching Elijah’s description so precisely. But she couldn’t tell him. Her position here was tenuous at best. She wasn’t in a hurry to tell the one guy on her side that his baby sister had died on her watch.
Beside Elijah, the Wyvern seemed to be saying something. Sybil shuddered. The idea that you could talk to Wyverns, that they were even intelligent enough to maintain a conversation… it was almost like they were human.
“That doesn’t matter to me,” Elijah replied, looking for all the world like he was talking to thin air. “You can keep your Prophecy of Origin. I just want my sister back.” His voice was pleading now and Sybil looked away, trying to distract herself with the blank cave walls. They didn’t help. On her right, Solomon walked.
“You’re hiding something,” said Solomon.
Most people would have opened with ‘hello’.
“I don’t think we’ve ever been formally introduced,” replied Sybil, trying to ignore his opening line.
“I know who you are,” snorted Solomon. “I know most things. Elijah calls me Solomon the wise.”
“Does he now?” asked Sybil, bemused.
“He will learn to,” replied Solomon. “Just as he will learn that befriending someone like you will only hurt him.”
“I have no interest in hurting Elijah. We’re all on the same side now.”
“You’re a Skylander,” replied Solomon, venom dripping off the word. “Your kind have persecuted Seers for generations. You will betray him, you will betray all of us if you are given a chance, whatever Xanthius says.”
They continued pacing through the intricate maze of caverns. In the distance, she heard a crash as the doors of the Future Storm’s hideout exploded inwards. They were too late now. They’d never be able to follow them in these twisting catacombs.
“Why would I do that?” Sybil asked, keeping her voice calm and allowing just the right amount of outrage to taint it. “My people will kill me if I go back. Without me, our glorious founder could still be alive.” She spoke the words bitterly. The idea that the Hall had kept Tommen a secret from everyone in the Skylands weighed on her. They were only supposed to keep secrets from the Earthlands, never from each other.
Solomon laughed then, a dark, cold laugh. “You think Tommen’s dead? You think he’s that easy to kill? You stupid girl, if it was that easy, I’d have done it years ago.”
Sybil started. “You knew about Tommen?”
“Knew about him?” asked Solomon, his face turning still darker, his eyes sparkling with hate. “I grew up with him.”
“Oh, right,” replied Sybil. “You’re two hundred and fifty years old… I forgot.”
“You do not believe me?”
“I saw Tommen turn to dust with my own eyes,” replied Sybil, a hint of uncertainty creeping into her voice. “He is gone.”
“Contact with the Pulse only made him stronger,” replied Solomon. “I’d hate to see what contact with the timeline has done.”
Sybil shuddered, Tommen’s wrinkled face flashing before her eyes. She hoped Solomon wasn’t as wise as he seemed to think he was. Ahead of her, she could see a crack in the rock which Seers and soldiers were squeezing through, one at a time. The crack was a bottleneck and Sybil waited impatiently for her turn. On the other side of the crack, was a dark wasteland. It was night time, she realised. It was difficult to track time in the caves and she had not realised how much had passed. Above her, a dark behemoth shadowed the land. Sybil stared at it in wonder, marvelling at the ancient island above her. Her Island, the Island of Tommen. She allowed a single tear to trickle down her cheek as she realised she would never see it again. Whether Tommen lived or not, she could never, ever return. They had suspected her before she fled, she was doomed if she went back. She stilled the emotion and looked at the dozens of Seers which glowed around her. She was alone in this world, surrounded by those who would destroy it. She really missed the days when life had made sense.
Elijah did not like this, not one bit. Whoever thought to put the secret escape exit under the giant floating island was a moron. There was a [_reason _]no one ever came out here. And was it just his imagination or was it still shaking a bit?
The desert was freezing this late at night and Elijah shivered in the wind, tugging his woollen cloak tighter around himself. He looked around at his new family; the faces of soldiers were troubled, those of Seers determined. No doubt they wondered where they were going next. Elijah wouldn’t mind knowing himself. In fact, there were a lot of things he wouldn’t mind knowing. Like why the Wyverns had attacked the Skylands. Xanthius had refused to tell him.
He stalked over to Solomon who had been talking to Sybil. They were pointedly ignoring each other. Lots of love there.
“Where are we going?” he asked. “And what’s with the Wyverns? And when are we going back to rescue Truth?”
“To Ekriam,” answered Solomon simply, he suddenly spun around and pointed west. “To the east! Far, far to the east!”
Elijah didn’t bother correcting him. “The old city that once housed all the strength and wealth of us Seers and is now more tightly controlled than the Skylands themselves in case we ever try to return? That makes sense. I can see why a secret organisation like the Future Storm would want to go there. I’m sure our lives won’t be threatened on a daily basis. And the Wyverns?”
“To be honest, I don’t think they’ll be giving us a lift anytime soon,” replied Solomon cheerfully, ignoring Elijah’s sarcasm.
“They will be punished for their treachery,” said Sybil in a monotone. The words sent shivers down Elijah’s spine.
“That’s not what I meant,” answered Elijah. “I meant why were they attacking the Skylands?”
“I’d tell you, but I’d be worried that someone here might try and use it to betray us and then later kill us,” he jerked his head to his left and then leaned in and whispered covertly. “I’m talking about Sybil.”
Sybil rolled her eyes.
“Excuses,” growled Elijah.
“But darn good ones!” replied Solomon brightly, turning away from him and indicating that he should follow. “Now come on, we have moving to do.”
Elijah didn’t complain. The faster they got out from underneath the floating island’s shadow the better.
“What about Truth?” he asked, hurrying after him.
“The Future Storm must regroup,” replied Solomon. “We will travel to Ekriam and join forces with our army there. They will decide when the next attack on the Skylands will be.”
“She could be dead by then!” argued Elijah. Beside him, Sybil seemed to be making a very intense study of her shoes.
Solomon shrugged. “It’s either that or you go up there by yourself, somehow get past all the guards, figure out what mine she’s in and rescue her all while shining like a homing beacon for any Skylander who has a particular grudge against Seers – which is all of them.”
“There has to be another way!” Elijah answered, feeling despair overwhelm him. He couldn’t lose Truth too. Not after just losing his father. Not after everything he’d gone through to try and get her back. The thought of her, always so happy and cheerful, being broken by the Skylanders made him want to a scream. Solomon put a hand on his shoulder in a gesture that everyone seemed to think helped but never did.
“I’m sorry Elijah.”
Beside him, Sybil refused to meet his eyes. “You really think your people are so just, chaining up children?” Elijah asked, his voice strained.
Sybil didn’t answer. Elijah grabbed her shoulder. “Hey! I’m talking to you here!”
Sybil looked at him, her eyes panicked. And then she collapsed.
[“You are close to me Sybil, I can feel it,” _]Tommen’s voice screeched through Sybil’s mind like a banshee. [“Come back to me Sybil, all is forgiven.”_]
Sybil fell to her knees, her hands tight against her ears. She shut her eyes, willing the noise away. Still Tommen’s voice penetrated her mind, every syllable drilling into the base of her skull and setting her very thoughts aflame.
[“Bring the boy back to me Sybil,” _]Tommen’s voice whispered. [“He is dangerous. You will be rewarded if you bring the boy back.”_]
“More dangerous than you?” hissed Sybil, through gritted teeth.
She knelt in the desert sands, hunched over with her head between her knees. Around her, the night was still, her fight with Tommen a storm in an ocean of calm. Instinctually, she sought the Pulse, but it was distant, beyond her control and would not be moulded to her will. Instead, all she heard was Tommen’s voice, slithering through her brain like a snake.
[“You know it is true. It has been foretold. He will break the Wyvern’s wings. And without the Wyvern’s the Skylands are _]nothing[.”_]
Every syllable sent a shock through Sybil’s body and she knelt in the sand, moaning in pain. Beside her, Elijah laid a hand on her shoulder, his expression concerned. For an Earthlander to feel concern for a Skylander went against everything Sybil had ever known. Earthlanders, least of all Seers, did not care for Skylanders. They did not pity them, they did not help them. They were nothing but dangerous animals whose power needed to be neutralised, whose lying tongues needed to be stilled. And yet…
The Future Storm had manipulated the timeline, something Sybil had always been assured could literally mean the end of the world. And yet they lived. Elijah had had countless opportunities to end her life, simply by doing nothing. And yet she lived. But above all else, Earthlanders were meant to despise the Skylanders to hate them with every fibre of their being. And yet he cared.
“Bring him to me or everything that has been built will be destroyed!”
Sybil looked up at Elijah’s face. He knelt in front of her now. Around them the Future Storm paused in their marching and a circle began to form around them.
“You cannot control me anymore,” Sybil hissed, every word an effort.
“Who are you talking to?” Elijah asked, his eyes frightened. As if he hadn’t spent the day talking to an animal.
“Probably her imaginary friend,” grunted Solomon. “Skylanders have no families. Imaginary friends and spontaneous mental breakdowns are more common than you’d think. Come on, let’s leave her in the desert to die.” He began to pull Elijah away from her.
“It’s Tommen,” gasped Sybil, in desperation more than anything else. “He still lives.”
The effect was instantaneous. A hush descended on the army as her words reverberated outwards through the group in a whisper. They all knew of Tommen. His name was legendary, even in the Earthlands. The whisper moved outwards in a wave, panic rising as it spread.
“What’s going on here?” Ash barked, striding towards them through the crowd.
Sybil didn’t reply, every ounce of her concentration focused on keeping Tommen’s voice at bay.
[_“Bring him to me!” _]he roared in the recesses of her mind.
Elijah answered for her. “It’s Tommen. He’s still alive. He’s… talking to Sybil.”
Ash raised an eyebrow.“Why is this happening now?” she asked. “Why didn’t he try speaking to her in the caves?”
“The Island…” stammered Sybil through gritted teeth. “The Pulse holds the Skylands aloft and he controls it…”
Ash followed her gaze and frowned. “He can only talk to you when you’re close by?” Sybil shrugged a yes, her face strained.
Above them, the Island seemed to shake with malice. Meanwhile, all around them, the pretence of the Future Storm being a tightly controlled military force was swiftly being abandoned. Seers and soldiers fled the crater as fast as they could, leaving pots and pans strewn in their wake. All eyes were on the sky, scanning the air for Wyverns. Ash did not seem perturbed.
“Keep moving!” she shouted. “I want to be out of this crater by dawn.” She turned back to Sybil and a strange smile lit her face. “You are going to be very useful to us, Student.”
Ash turned and walked away. Beside her, Elijah offered her his hand. Sybil tried not to cringe away from it. With Tommen against her, she needed all the help she could get. Even if it did come from Seer-Earthlander scum.
“Seems like she wants to keep you as an early warning system for Tommen,” said Elijah, in that tone of voice people use when they are unsure if everyone else has yet grasped the obvious. Sybil just nodded and tried not to fall over. She failed. Elijah offered her his shoulder and Sybil had to struggle not to slap him. An Earthlander supporting a Student of the Drum! The very thought. She stood up again and immediately fell over. She revised her opinion and took the shoulder of the Seer-Earthlander scum. Together, they began to struggle up the steep incline of the crater.
Beside them Solomon walked, one eye on Elijah and another on Sybil. Somehow, the eye trained on Sybil managed to glare.
“We could just leave her,” he suggested helpfully.
“She saved my life in that attack,” replied Elijah. “We’re not leaving her.”
Sybil felt a surge of gratitude for the Seer. Somehow, when she leaned on him, Tommen’s voice seemed a little further away, as if he was protecting her. In the back of her mind, Tommen continued to scream, but as they walked, Sybil began to feel like she could ignore it.
“Wait a second,” she said, a realisation dawning on her. She let go of Elijah.
[_“You will never survive in the Earthlands, Sybil!” _]Tommen’s voice screamed and Sybil fell to her knees, her head pounding with pain. She shut her eyes, making fists in the sand and with all the concentration she could muster said: “Give me your hand.”
Elijah, looking puzzled, gave it to her. Instantly Tommen’s voice receded into the distance. She gasped for breath and got to her feet again.
“What’s going on?” Elijah asked.
“Touching you seems to keep Tommen at bay,” replied Sybil, unsure herself. It was like Elijah was slamming the door on Tommen. She could still hear him, but the voice was muffled. From his pocket, Elijah fished out the spherical power shard.
“Maybe it’s the magical string-cutting power shard?” he handed it to her. Sybil took it and suddenly Tommen was gone. Never mind closing a door, when she was holding the power shard it was more like she’d blown up the whole house with Tommen in it. She smiled in relief.
“Thank you,” she said, putting real gratitude in her voice.
Elijah shrugged. “Not much I can do with a power shard out here anyway. Do you think Tommen knows where we are?”
Sybil swept her hand across the vast expanse of the desert. “Even if he does, he’d never find us.”
“You could have told him where we are. You could have gone home.” Elijah let the question hang unspoken in the air between them.
Solomon answered it anyway. “Probably so she could stab us in the back later,” he grunted.
“Tommen was kept locked up for a reason,” Sybil replied, ignoring him. “His control of the Pulse is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Now that he is free… there are none in the Skylands who could stop him. Even if I could go back, I would be returning to a dictatorship. And there is always the risk of another Wyvern attack.” She stopped speaking for a moment, her own words echoing in her ears. Her whole world was falling apart and if the Wyverns had their way that could literally happen. She straightened her back and when she spoke again her voice was determined. “There is work I must complete here.”
They continued walking for hours, with the sun getting hotter and hotter above them. When at last Ash called a halt to the endless march the sun had reached its zenith and Sybil was pretty sure she would have just collapsed if they had kept going. Some had and were being half carried, half dragged by soldiers who looked like they wished they were doing anything else. As soon as they stopped, other soldiers got to work unpacking tents. They took out the tents with practiced precision, barely seeming tired. She supposed terrorists needed to know how to survive in the barren wastelands that civilised society spurned.
“You may sleep until sunset!” Ash announced. “After that we move again.”
Soon the tents were ready and Sybil, Elijah and Solomon crammed into one with two others she did not recognise. She had just fallen asleep when a soldier opened the flap and called into them.
“Get up! Ash wants you!”
So much for sleeping till sunset.
“Time passes, when the quietened rise again,
Weep for the pain that shall be faced and laugh for the joy of the wind,
For from the lands of Aubrey, a terror shall rise, and he shall break the wind and bring hope to the broken.
Wisdom shall guide his footsteps and the earth and the wind shall watch over him.
The Sky will be his companion and war shall mark his coming.
Think on this in the days of captivity, when memories are broken and your children are but slaves,
For he shall rend the earth and tame the beasts of flames and when all hope has faded amongst the city of your birth, the Sky shall fall.”
Ash finished the recital calmly and folded her arms, regarding Elijah and Sybil. She was good at regarding people that way, Sybil decided.
She turned to Elijah. “Is this really why Solomon thinks you’re so important? Because you will make the Sky fall?”
“It could happen,” Elijah said defensively.
Sybil raised one eyebrow, a gesture that had taken considerable time in front of a mirror to perfect. She was quite proud of it.
Ash coughed. “I do not think you fully understand the gravity of the situation, Student. He is the Aontaithe, the one prophesied to destroy your world.”
A sudden chill shook Sybil, but she refused to be cowed.
“I understand perfectly,” she replied. “I just choose not to fear it.”
Behind her, Solomon snorted in derision. “Whether you choose to fear it or not, it spells your death, Student.”
“And yours, old man,” replied Sybil.
“Oh really?” asked Solomon. “Does it say the Earth will fall? I’m pretty sure all I heard was that the Sky would fall. There was no mention of anything happening to me.”
“I think the miracle of gravity would take care of that-”
“What I don’t understand,” interrupted Elijah, “is what all this has to do with me. I’m not even from Aubrey. If a terror is supposed to be rising, it can’t be me.”
Silence engulfed the tent. They had thought they had found their saviour, Sybil realised, and he had just dashed their hopes. Solomon did not seem perturbed though.
“I know it’s you Elijah. Me and Xanthius have been searching for you for a very, very long time. We have traced your lineage back a thousand years. There is no doubt in my mind that you are the one we have been searching for. Why do you think Xanthius rescued you to begin with?”
“Oh I forgot. The all knowing Wyvern. What does this have to do with the Wyverns anyway? Why’s it their prophecy? Why does a big glowing lizard-”
Suddenly he cut off. They all did, their mouths gaping open as if deliberately trying to flaunt their still-attached tongues in front of her. Elijah and Ash’s skin began glowing. Then Xanthius walked in. Great, exclude the person who can’t talk to the glowing Wyvern.
Elijah muttered something to himself and sat back down. Ash did likewise. Solomon remained standing.
Xanthius paced to the centre of the tent, paying Sybil only a cursory glance.
“Well then, go on,” muttered Elijah.
The Wyvern obviously said something because Elijah answered, “What do you mean [_your _]prophecy? Wyverns can’t prophesy.”
Elijah’s eyes widened. “No, that can’t be true… that’s impossible.” Sybil reached her breaking point. She cleared her throat.
“What, may I ask, is impossible?” she asked, through gritted teeth.
“The Wyverns…” stuttered Elijah. “It all makes sense now…”
“What makes sense now?” asked Sybil, more than a hint of anger entering her voice.
“Why they can only talk to Seers, why we glow around them, why they arrived when the Skylands did…”
“They arrived by providence, so that we may exercise our dominance over all of EarthSky,” Sybil answered crisply.
“No,” breathed Elijah. “The first Wyverns, they were the last Seers… they didn’t come with the Skylands…” He took a deep breath, steadying himself as a deep sinking feeling entered Sybil’s gut. When he spoke again, it was as if every word lasted an age. “They created them.”
Sybil felt sick, her mind reeling. Her vision blurred for a second and from her nose she felt blood drip. “What do you mean, they created them?” she asked shakily, but she knew the answer. Elijah was right, it made sense, it all fit together so perfectly.
“Six Seers survived the Silence,” Elijah answered, his voice breathless.
“Seven,” corrected Solomon absently. Sybil stared at the old Seer in horror. Of course, he already knew all this, he had lived through it. She felt her stomach heave. Her hands began to shake.
“Those six,” continued Elijah. “Joined together, pooling their energies to rip apart the earth. They created your Islands, Sybil. The Pulse, that pure power that you’re so proud of, it’s just the remnants of the power they used, constantly being reused through the timeline…”
“No,” Sybil groaned, feeling nausea fill her. “No, it’s not possible…”
“But it took its toll,” continued Elijah, clearly reciting the words of Xanthius who stared intently at Sybil from the centre of the room.
“It changed them, altered their bodies into living embodiments of the timeline. Don’t you see Sybil? It’s why they glow when Seers are around, why they make us glow too, why they tried to destroy the Island of Tommen. They thought it would make them human again.”
“No!” screamed Sybil, clapping her hands over her ears. “No, it’s not true!”
Her stomach heaved, her vision blurring, blood flowing down her chin. The implications were overwhelming. It was a lie. Everything was a lie. The Pulse, it was just as dirty, just as dangerous, just as contaminated as the timeline. The deaths it had caused in the early days of the Drum, they were not proof of their right to rule, they were just deaths… Nausea pummelled her and she fell forward, her hands supporting her weight. Suddenly, she felt her intestines squirm, her gut groaning, forcing open her mouth as she vomited all across the floor of the tent.
“Nice…” muttered Solomon.
The disgusting, acidic taste of the vomit filled Sybil’s mouth and she gasped for breath. The stench of it filled her nostrils. She felt her stomach heave again and more came out, she tried to stop it but she couldn’t, her body forced its will against her, her jaw locking. She groaned in pain as drool, blood and vomit mixed on her chin.
“Sybil? Are you OK?” Elijah asked, placing one hand on her shoulder.
Sybil brushed it off. “Get off me,” she muttered, backing away. It wasn’t true… It couldn’t be true…
“Sybil it’s OK,” Elijah replied, moving his hand back in what he probably thought was a comforting gesture.
“It is not OK!” Sybil roared suddenly, throwing the hand off and pushing herself to her feet. She moved a trembling hand to her face, wiping away the blood and vomit. They were all staring at her now, their faces hostile, leering. Sybil stepped back, slipping on a stray piece of the tent’s groundsheet and collapsing onto the floor. The three Seers towered over her, their glowing bodies blinding her eyes. She screamed, embracing the rhythm of the Pulse, the beat the same pillar of strength it had always been this far from Tommen. She saw Elijah step towards her, a hand outstretched, the gesture threatening, invasive. She struck out blindly, twisting the pulse into a cracking whip that threw him backwards. The tent collapsed against his weight and Sybil felt the canvas fall around her. She screamed in rage and confusion, twisting the Pulse into an inferno of fire, the beat’s noise rising higher and higher, producing an unstoppable crescendo that tore through the camp. And Sybil was at the heart of it. She was one with the beat. The tent was gone, mere ashes now, and in the distance she could see its inhabitants backing away from the heat of the flames. She cared not for them. The beat was her only concern, the only thing she had left to cling to, the only thing she had ever had to cling to. The beat was her life.
[_‘But it is a lie.’ _]The thought invaded her consciousness, aggressive and cruel. She screamed from the centre of the inferno, watching a thousand flames circle her in a twisting tornado, feeling the beat of the Pulse in every cell of her body. What was she? She towered over the campsite, feeling the air whip around her, her thoughts confused and chaotic. What were they all? Why did they even need the Arrival? The smell of smoke rose through the air, hot and choking. She was supported only by the thunderous beat of the Pulse as she slowly rose through the air, feeling its fragile structure meld and melt, as if subject to the hot desert sun. The Pulse could not be used in this way.
“Sybil!” she heard a panicked voice in the distance. “Stop this, Sybil you have to stop!”
Her concentration shattered. She felt the Pulse collapse beneath her, felt it recede into her mind. She plummeted down, her legs hitting the ground in a crash of hot sand. Pain shot through her but she barely registered it. What had she done?
She gasped for breath, then breathed in a mouthful of dust and coughed raggedly. Her every pore felt on fire, her very bones drained of all energy. She struggled to stand, her feet slipping on the hot sand. She felt a hand catch her as she fell and she looked up to see Elijah.
“It’s OK,” he said, his face fearful, but concerned. “Nobody knew. How could you have?”
Suddenly Sybil felt tears spring to her eyes. This pathetic Earthlander… he did not have the right to offer such forgiveness.
“You do not understand,” she wept. “The things I’ve done to the Wyverns, I didn’t know they were people. None of us knew, it’s unspeakable…
“It’s OK,” she heard Elijah say again and suddenly she felt his arms embrace her. She allowed it, feeling the tears roll down her cheeks as she finally relinquished her last ounce of self-control.
“I didn’t know,” she whispered.
Elijah didn’t answer her but his body comforted her, his arms holding her tight against his chest as her tears stained his ragged, woollen cloak.
“I can’t believe you only broke one tent,” Elijah muttered as he walked inside. “Granted, it’s pretty destroyed, more destroyed than a feather in a bonfire, more destroyed than a spark in the ocean, heck I’d say it’s so far destroyed we probably couldn’t even manipulate the timeline to get it back.”
Sybil gave him an icy stare but then dropped her gaze. “I don’t even know why I care anymore. Everything’s been a lie. For all I know manipulating the timeline is as dangerous as cuddling a baby lamb.”
“Actually this whole using the power of Prophecy thing lets me go back in time and see what’s happened in the past… it’s destroyed whole cities before.”
“Oh that’s OK then,” replied Sybil, noticeably brightening.
“I watched thousands perish,” said Elijah.
“Brilliant news!” gushed Sybil.
“Uh, huh…” replied Elijah, becoming slightly worried that the girl he was beginning to develop feelings for was a psychotic maniac. That stopped his train of thought abruptly and his mind nearly derailed and went straight into the chasm of la-la land. He had feelings for a Skylander? He looked at the girl in front of him. She was pretty, in a grimy, dust stained kind of way. And she did seem more open minded than most Skylanders. At least she’d stopped wanting to silence him. But like her? Like, like-like her? It seemed a betrayal of everything he stood for. Both his parents had died because of the Skylanders. They may not have directly killed his father, but the blood was on their hands. But Sybil was as hated by the Skylanders now as he was… He shook his head, trying to clear it. These were deep thoughts. He didn’t have time for deep thoughts. He still had to rescue Truth. Once she was OK, then he could think about Sybil.
It was a couple of hours past noon and the air in the tent was hot and humid, although it was still better than being in the oven that was the desert outside. They were alone as Solomon was talking with Ash and the tent’s other two inhabitants had decided to give them a wide berth – no surprise there. Sybil had found some water to clean her face, but her white vest was still stained with blood. Sitting there, crouched against the canvas, she looked more like a wounded soldier than someone who had just had a nervous breakdown.
“What are they going to do with me?” she asked, her face impassive.
“Probably nothing,” Elijah shrugged, settling down beside her. Sybil shuddered a little as his shoulder touched hers, but she didn’t move. Old habits die hard, he guessed.
“Nothing??” asked Sybil incredulously. “That can’t be true. You saw what I did.”
Elijah shrugged. “Solomon says most Tears are worse than that. They all get what it’s like to lose control.”
“It’s when a Seer first discovers their power,” explained Elijah. “It’s usually not a particularly happy occasion.”
Sybil’s face turned pale, her expression sickened. “Please don’t compare me with…” she gulped.
“Too soon?” he asked. She nodded glumly. Reaching out, he took her hand in his. She stiffened instantly, but she didn’t move. Her hand was warm and smaller than his. Somehow, holding it felt right.
“So no one knows about this back home then?” he asked conversationally.
Sybil shook her head, her hand still in his. “The Wyverns… we use them for training. We didn’t know they were people…” Her eyes were red and swollen and she blinked rapidly as she talked.
“I’ve done horrible things to them,” she whispered.
Well, this wasn’t a very cheery conversation, Elijah decided. He tried to think of something to change the topic, but his mind was blank. He felt awkward around the distraught Student, as if his every movement was an inconvenience.
“I knew it, deep down inside,” she whispered, breaking the short silence. “I get nosebleeds you see… always have when I overuse the Pulse. I always thought it was a sign of something… I guess I was right.”
“Yeah, right,” snorted Solomon. Elijah spun around as the old man entered the tent. “Or rather ‘yeah, wrong’. You could never be a Seer, Student. You lack the gift.”
“It’s the same power,” muttered Sybil. “I might as well be.”
“You wish it was the same power!”Solomon barked. “Your pathetic Pulse is nothing compared to the timeline. If you could compare time itself to the ocean, that’s what we’d be using. Your Pulse is more like a puddle, a dirty puddle, it’s why you get your little nosebleeds. You are dogs, unable to comprehend the fact that the puddle you drink from is dirty.”
Sybil nodded, seeming depressed, as if all the fight in her was gone now. For all that she was, all that her people had done, Elijah couldn’t help but pity her. Of course, if he ever mentioned that, she’d probably cut off his head with that useless puddle of hers.
“Did you come in for a reason?” he asked Solomon.
“Just to let the Student know that Ash has decided her punishment. She will forfeit all of her rations until the tent is paid off and will be on call to fulfil any request that Ash has.”
“How far away is Ekriam?” asked Sybil.
“Two days journey.”
Elijah stared at the two of them, trying to decide which of them had become more unhinged. “How is she going to survive two days in this heat without any rations?”
“She can make herself a sandwich,” replied Solomon and then laughed. “Get it, sandwich? Age has not dulled my razor-sharp wit, obviously.”
Well that settled the who-is-more-unhinged debate. Still giggling inanely, Solomon stepped outside the tent, leaving Elijah and Sybil, once more, alone.
They sat in silence for a while, with Elijah feeling more and more awkward, until Sybil spoke.
“What’s it like growing up in the Earthlands?” she asked, her eyes not even looking at him.
Elijah shrugged. “Pretty awful. Things were even worse during the Fallen War. There’d be raids the whole time. My mum never let me or Truth go to school. She said it was too dangerous. We used to stay at home. She tried to teach us letters, you know those weird squiggles? Never could get the hang of it. Truth was a natural though.”
“You have schools?” asked Sybil.
“We used to,” answered Elijah. “Before the Guardians destroyed them all when Prazna was taken.”
“The Guardians would never do such a thing!” snapped Sybil.
“The Guardians did a whole lot worse after taking Prazna, Sybil. They murdered my mother in front of my eyes. I was five.”
Sybil bit her lip, glancing away. “I’m sorry,” she said in an obligatory sort of way. “Do you still remember it?”
“No,” lied Elijah, the scene replaying in his mind’s eye, his mother’s blood dripping from his hands. “No, I was too young.”
He looked at the ground for a while and then because the silence was stretching and because he wanted to change the subject as swiftly as possible, asked. “What was it like for you growing up? Are your parents still up there?”
“We don’t have parents in the Skylands,” sniffed Sybil, her tone indicating that she was just as happy to ignore the whole we-killed-your-mother thing. “Most of us don’t even know who they are. In the Skylands, we are all appointed Raisers. Two of them can manage as many as twelve of us at a time. It also gives those who birthed us the freedom to continue their vital work, to the benefit of all.”
“So you don’t even know who your parents are?”
Sybil coloured briefly. “I said most of us don’t. I know my mother is an Earthlander, purely because of the shadow she has cast over my time in the Drum.”
“Wait, your mother is an Earthlander and you still think that you Skylanders are better than us? You don’t think that’s a bit of a pot-kettle-black sort of situation there?”
“It’s not about blood,” growled Sybil, as if the very word disgusted her. “We [_are _]better. We have electricity and running water. Your pathetic stone buildings can barely support a single power shard. We have a parliament and a functioning government which promotes law and order across every Island. Your city states are only a step above anarchy.”
“Better anarchy than being ruled by Tommen,” grumbled Elijah. “If you think the Skylands are so great why don’t you go back and tell them all about the Wyverns? I’m sure your enlightened people will accept you back with open arms.”
“No,” replied Sybil, completely oblivious to his sarcasm. “Tommen controls the Hall. They’ll just execute me. No, to solve this problem, I have to get to the source of it.” She turned her head, staring Elijah straight in the eyes, her gaze fierce and intense. “I’m going to kill Tommen.”
Elijah shrugged. “Well good luck. But if he survived being struck with the raw timeline, I can’t think it’ll be a particularly fair fight.”
“He has weaknesses…” replied Sybil. “He is clever, that is his main strength. Using the Probe to bring me to him… that was a good move. If you hadn’t arrived, I don’t know what he would have done to me.”
“Really?” asked Elijah. “I would have said his main strength is his ability to force every Skylander to do his bidding using his weird puppet-master powers.”
“No. That will make him over confident. He will rely on it. I can use that against him. His strength will be his undoing.”
Elijah shrugged, settling down on the tent floor to sleep. “So what are you going to do? Convince a Wyvern to take you back there, then lurk in the shadows and get him when he least expects it?”
“I don’t have all the details worked out yet!” snapped Sybil.
Elijah yawned. “OK. Let me know before you go… you know, so I can plan your funeral, that sort of thing.”
Sybil didn’t reply, but instead watched Elijah shuffle on the tent floor, trying to get comfortable. She didn’t try the same thing. Instead she just stayed seated, her eyes wide open, considering how to kill the most powerful man in the world.
Hours later, Elijah awoke to find Solomon gently prodding him in the side with one foot.
“Elijah,” he whispered.
Elijah rolled over and tried to pretend he was still asleep. The prodding became more insistent. “I think your Skylander is planning to betray us.”
Elijah gave up. “And why do you think that?” he asked, sitting up.
“She’s gone to speak with Ash alone.”
“I’m sure Ash is perfectly capable of defending herself,” yawned Elijah, getting up and stretching.
“Not if she stabs her in the back,” replied Solomon.
“I don’t think Sybil’s the type to do anything so subtle.”
Elijah stepped out of the tent and Solomon followed him, still muttering about how Sybil would be the death of them all. It was dark outside and around them, Elijah could see soldiers beginning to pack away the tents, so he grabbed a few pegs and began to take apart their own. Soon there was a huddled mess of canvas on the ground. Elijah stared at it. “What next?” he wondered aloud. A soldier wandered over and wordlessly began to pack it away into a backpack.
“Thanks,” said Elijah.
The soldier said nothing but was probably thinking something along the lines of ‘bloody civilians’.
Within minutes they were moving again. The night was dark and as cold as steel but at the pace Ash set, they warmed up quickly. At some point, Sybil came back, her expression dark, carrying a backpack which was taller than she herself was. Elijah thought about asking her what they talked about, but one look at Sybil’s face made him immediately reconsider this idea. Instead, they walked in silence, their steps muffled by the sand and the cold silver stars the only source of illumination. Every so often food was passed back through the ranks, but every morsel seemed to neatly avoid Sybil. So Elijah shared his. He didn’t know why he did this. He just knew that he didn’t like being hungry and he was willing to bet she didn’t either. Besides, he liked her. She may have tried to mutilate him once, but they were past that now.
The night passed and the day wore on. Every so often they would stop for a break, but other than that the drudging pace was endless. What made it about a thousand times worse was that there were no landmarks. They may as well be walking in a giant circle. For all he knew, Ash just considered this all a character building exercise. Everywhere looked the same. Here, there was sand. There, there was sand. All that there was, was sand. Sometimes things would get real exciting and there’d be a cactus. Or a dune. Which was just a hill made of sand.
It was twilight on the second day when Ash at last called a halt to the endless march. They stood on the side of a steep slope and Elijah kept walking, trying to get to the top to get a better view. Sybil joined him. When they reached the top, they just stopped and stared.
Below them was the biggest city Elijah had ever seen. Bright torches flickered in the distance, illuminating the pale, sandstone walls of what could have been a fortress if there were not so many houses behind it. From atop the hill, Elijah could easily see over the walls and he gazed in wonder at the thousands of houses crammed together beside the ordered streets. They looked very cramped.
“Behold my rapt pupil!” Solomon shouted, running up beside them and gesturing vigorously. He took a deep breath and then shouted: “The ancient Seer city of Ekriam!”
Elijah just kept staring, unable to shift his gaze from the impossibly huge city. It seemed to go on forever and in its centre stood a huge rectangular building that towered over all the houses. Above it all, the silhouettes of dozens of Wyverns flew, their harrowing calls holding a whole new significance now. Elijah shivered, and not just from the cold.
“It is not going to be easy to get in there,” he breathed.
Sybil nodded, her expression cold.
“That is why we have this!” proclaimed Solomon. “Ash, ready the Tunnel!”
Ash gave him a strange look. “You know you can’t give me orders, don’t you Solomon?” she asked.
“Merely a helpful suggestion,” replied Solomon innocently.
Ash looked away and called out over the crowd of Seers and soldiers.
“Aoife, Jonathon, Tumbleweed, David to me!” she called. “It’s time to ready the Tunnel!”
Elijah spared only a moment’s thought to how stupid a name Tumbleweed was as the four Seers ran up towards her. They didn’t speak, just saluted and began concentrating. Abruptly, they started talking, their words so fast they were incoherent and, suddenly, the timeline seemed to burst into the air, a thousand strands weaving together and pulling at each other all at once. The air shuddered, squirming against the intrusion. All was silent for a second and then the air split apart, forming a shuddering square of utter darkness.
“Alright, everyone in now!” Ash shouted. “Come on, quick hurry up, everyone in!” Seers and soldiers started running inside, as if their lives depended on it.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” muttered Sybil in revulsion.
“I have seen safer looking things,” agreed Elijah. “Wasn’t this Tunnel one of those things that you said were likely to cause a… what do you call it again?”
“They’re called Breaches my slow-witted pupil!” shouted Solomon, who was already running for it. “You’re welcome to stay here if you like, but this thing doesn’t stay open forever and whoever doesn’t get in gets left behind!”
Elijah and Sybil exchanged glances. The idea of being left alone in the desert with those Wyverns so close by didn’t appeal to either one of them. Taking a deep breath, they charged towards the opening.
Inside the Tunnel the air was cold and clammy. There was no wind and the dull clink of chainmail seemed deafeningly loud in the strange silence. The ground beneath them was dark and seemed to melt underfoot as they walked. Elijah felt like he was squelching through mud, but the strange, black ooze made no sound.Elijah decided that he didn’t like it. Not one bit.
“What is this place?” Sybil whispered.
“Gap in the timeline,” replied Solomon cheerfully. “Well [_gap _]isn’t the correct word, it’s more of a wedge-like thing, I guess. Like a pie slice. Damn, I miss pie.”
“You know, using this thing to go straight from Prazna to Ekriam would have been a lot easier than all that walking through the desert,” grumbled Elijah, trying to shake off the feeling that something was horribly wrong.
“Sure, if you’d wanted to destroy all of Prazna.”
Elijah swallowed hard. “So what’s to stop us destroying all of Ekriam?”
“The Obelisk,” replied Solomon, in that tone of voice people use when they’re expecting you to reply with a question. Elijah took the bait.
“What’s an Obelisk?”
“I’m glad you asked!” replied Solomon. “Think a giant ring of stone, beautiful things they were, carved all over and usually inlaid with gold. They were built during the height of Ekriam’s power to help with this kind of thing. Buried under about a hundred feet of sand now though, but still powerful enough to stabilise a small Tunnel.”
Elijah gazed around the Tunnel. Everything was dark except for the walls which flickered and writhed with the colours of the timeline. Every so often, Elijah would see something he understood, a face, a sword, a bird, but the vast majority was an incomprehensible spinning blur. You would think having access to all of time itself would be slightly more useful.
“Keep to the path!” Ash shouted back as they walked. “Don’t stray towards the timeline!”
“What happens if you stray towards the timeline?” asked Sybil.
“You’re trapped in it,” answered Solomon. “Although in your case that may not be a bad thing, so please help yourself.”
“You’re really beginning to get on my nerves,” growled Sybil.
“No really take as much time as you need,” replied Solomon. “Get it [_take _]as much time? Because you can literally touch it which would lead to your timely death and joy and celebration all across the land?”
Sybil grabbed Solomon’s shoulder roughly. “If you want me dead all man, I’m right here. I’d only love to see how your precious timeline does in a fight against my Pulse.”
“Oh I wouldn’t do that if I were you!” replied Solomon, still eerily happy. “No one’s ever used the Pulse in the Tunnel before – you never know what could happen.”
“I don’t need to use the Pulse to kill you,” growled Sybil.
“Could we please save the fights to the death until we’re [_out _]of the crazy fluctuating Tunnel of random time travel?” asked Elijah sweetly.
“We wouldn’t even need to do this if those Skylander dogs hadn’t captured Ekriam,” grumbled Solomon.
“What did you call me?” asked Sybil, a dangerous glint in her eyes.
“You’re right. I’m sorry. I got the gender confused. The appropriate term would be bi-“
And that’s when Sybil’s fist had a close encounter with Solomon’s face. The old Seer staggered back, clutching his eye.
“I’ll get you for that!” he shouted, diving at her. The only problem with that strategy, however, was that Elijah was in the way. Elijah fell backwards, losing his balance.
“My rapt pupil!” he heard Solomon gasp. Then he felt an arm grab him, he flailed madly, trying to restore his balance and then his other arm brushed the far wall. There was a flash of light and the Tunnel was gone.
He was on a beach. Light sea winds played across its landscape and in front of him he could see three individuals in strange, white cloaks talking to a group of bald, painted warriors. In the distance, he could see a huge ship with two masts and giant sails covered in angry looking birds. He had never seen the like before. He had never even known ships so big could be made. He looked closer at the group of bearded warriors. They wore strange, leather clothes and were covered in twisting paint which almost covered their faces. Two of them held long black chains. Elijah’s gaze followed the chains and flinched in revulsion. At the end of them were long, sharp metal hooks which were stabbed through the noses of two exhausted, defeated men. They looked down at the ground and their bodies were covered in ugly looking bruises.
“The Sea of Passing is dangerous,” one of the warriors said, leering down at the three white robed figures. “I cannot promise you more than one thousand.” His voice was harsh and guttural and he seemed to spit out the words, as if he was unused to how they sounded in his mouth.
“Then you send your men to die!” one of the white robed figures answered, his voice somehow familiar. “We are being slaughtered. One thousand will not change the tide of this war!”
“Then you die,” growled one of the other warriors. “Your existence does not concern us.”
“And what of our gold?” asked the white robed figure.
“We take our payment first or you get nothing!” commanded one of the warriors.
“Then we will take nothing,” answered the white robed figure.
The warrior leered down at the three, using his height to appear more threatening. “You do not want us for enemies, Seer,” he growled. “We can make life difficult for you.”
The robed figure just sniffed, glancing nervously at the two slaves.
“You could not imagine the lengths we would go to, to stop you,” he replied.
“What are you doing?”
Elijah heard the voices distantly, as if in a dream. He turned towards them. It wasn’t safe for him to be there, he knew.
“Wake up Elijah!” they shouted. “Come back to us!”
Elijah knew he should listen to the voices, but he had to know more about the painted men. What were they talking about? What did the Seers need a thousand of? But the figures seemed to be moving away, exiting the beach. He tried to follow them but found that his feet were rooted to the ground. He couldn’t move an inch. Abruptly, the timeline shattered in front of him and Elijah fell back, watching a thousand multi-coloured strands dissipate before him. His whole body seemed to shiver in revulsion as he fell back on the black ooze and he sat up instantly, shaking his head.
“What happened?” he groaned.
Then he felt a slap hit his face. The blow stung and Elijah shook his head, instantly enraged. But then he looked into the cold fury of Ash’s eyes and his anger ran away and hid like a scared kitten.
“What part of keep to the path are you failing to grasp?” she screeched. Elijah stumbled to his feet, afraid that she would crush him underneath her feet. Her angry, really very scary feet.
“It was an accident,” he muttered, rubbing his cheek. It still stung.
“You are mind-blowingly lucky that you’re even still alive!” shouted Ash. “I’ve seen much better men than you turn into nothing more than so many sacks of meat after touching the wall of this Tunnel!”
“If I may, Ash,” Solomon interjected. “My rapt pupil’s mistake may have been partly due to an error on my part.”
Elijah glanced at the old Seer sideways. Partly? Try wholly.
“I was teaching this Skylander dog a lesson in manners,” he explained. “And I fear Elijah may have become caught up in our struggle.”
Sybil glared at Solomon balefully, but said nothing.
“I alone am administering punishment to the Student, Solomon,” Ash whispered maliciously. “See that it does not happen again.”
“Of course, commander,” replied Solomon, nodding his head in acquiescence.
Ash gave them all a final glare and turned her back on them.
“Alright, everybody, we’re almost out!” she shouted as she moved back up to the head of the group. “Let’s pick up the pace!”
Elijah tripped and fell flat as he landed in the cellar in Ekriam. Stupid Future Storm not being able to make the Tunnel end at floor level. He sat up, rubbing his chin in pain. Solomon had been unable to explain his vision in the Tunnel, or how he had escaped it. It was nice to know he didn’t know everything. Either that or it was terrifying.
His eyes flicked around the dark cellar. All around him, Seers and soldiers were still piling out of the Tunnel. They didn’t stop walking after leaving the portal, but kept going towards the nearest exit. That was helpful, given that the room was too small to accommodate more than ten of them. He joined the steady stream, following them out. The corridor they entered was small and claustrophobic and it wound chaotically, splitting into three several times. Could these guys do anything that wasn’t confusing? Each of the soldiers took the turns mechanically, never even pausing at any of the intersections. At the eighth such turn, Elijah felt a hand on his shoulder. He turned to see Solomon who had already turned left and was beckoning him to follow. Elijah shrugged and did as he was bid. Behind him, he heard Sybil join them.
They walked alone for what seemed like an age through the twisting, red brick corridors. The air was dim and smoky, making Elijah’s eyes water. They walked in single file, edging along the narrow corridors in an effort to avoid the burning torches that hung in randomly placed brackets. By the time they eventually came to a small room, Elijah’s feet felt like they were going to fall off and then slap him in the face for putting them through such torture. The room had one bed in it and no door. An old woman sat at a small wooden table, writing. On several walls hung ancient, withered maps. A couple of candles were scattered randomly around the room to provide some bare illumination.
“Yvonne, I’d like you to meet someone,” Solomon announced as they crossed the threshold. The old woman looked up from her desk. Settling an old pair of spectacles on the end of her nose, she stared at the three of them.
“Solomon, is that you?” she asked.
“It is,” smiled Solomon. “And this is Elijah. He’s the one I’ve been searching for all this time.”
Yvonne shuffled towards them until she was standing uncomfortably close to Elijah. She peered at him, her long, thin nose touching his as she stared intently into his eyes.
“He doesn’t exactly look terrifying,” she muttered. “And he should be taller.”
“And hello to you too,” grumbled Elijah.
“And who’s the girl?” Yvonne asked.
“Skylander,” growled Solomon, spitting out the word. “Elijah seems to have taken some sort of liking to her.”
“Watch your tongue, old man,” Sybil hissed through clenched teeth.
Yvonne looked at them, seeming to be mulling something over. “Yes. Yes, this is good,” she said at last.
“So glad we could be of assistance,” replied Sybil acidly.
“Why are we here Solomon?” asked Elijah, getting tired of the conversation.
“Yvonne will look after us while we are in Ekriam,” answered Solomon, giving the old woman a flourishing bow.
“What about Truth?” asked Elijah. “You said that when we got to Ekriam the Future Storm would attack the Skylands again. I thought we could rescue her! I thought that was the whole point of walking all the way from Prazna to Ekriam through the bloody desert!”
Solomon and Yvonne exchanged glances. “Has it happened yet?” Solomon asked.
“Just an hour ago,” answered Yvonne. “Just as the prophecies predicted.”
“Wonderful, more mysterious prophecies,” replied Elijah, in a voice so deadpan it would make a ghoul shudder.
“What’s happened?” asked Sybil, her voice oddly panicked.
“War has been declared,” Yvonne answered gravely. “Allen, Lostheo, Aubrey, Coral, Prazna and Babel are now at war with the Skylands.”
“Well that’s the best news I’ve heard since this whole thing started!” replied Elijah, hope filling him. “We can use this to rescue Truth. Heck, with every city in the Earthlands on our side, we can rescue everyone in the mines!”
“I don’t think you really understand this war, Elijah,” replied Yvonne, shaking her head sadly.
“What do you mean?”
“The Earthland cities are not with the Future Storm,” she answered. “They still do not trust us, they still fear us, just like the girl’s people. They are in no hurry to rescue Seers, or anyone associated with Seers, from the mines.”
“But… but they’re Earthlanders,” spluttered Elijah. “Most of them aren’t even Seers.”
Solomon shrugged. “Sympathy for them has always been low. They’re associated with the Future Storm and no one trusts us. I blame a certain flying Island’s propaganda.” He looked meaningfully at Sybil.
“But why have they even declared war then?” exploded Elijah. “What’s the point?”
“The Arrival has been coming daily to every city since our attack on the Skylands,” replied Yvonne. “The cities of the Earthlands could tolerate it no longer.”
“But what about, you know, the enemy of my enemy and all that…” asked Elijah, grasping at straws.
“That is why we are in Ekriam,” replied Solomon. “This city is the birthplace of all Seers. If the Future Storm are to have a chance of beating the Skylands anywhere, it’s here. Most people here still pine for the glory days of old, when Ekriam and her Seers dominated the Earthlands.”
“So the Future Storm conquer Ekriam. Fine, then what? How does this get me closer to Truth?” Elijah could feel frustration building up inside him and he took several deep breaths, trying to calm himself down. It didn’t work.
“If the Future Storm conquer Ekriam, the other cities will have to accept us as a separate nation; it’s what we’ve been working towards for years. And with the Earthlands united, we can force the Skylands to free every single prisoner. We will bring freedom to the people of the Earthlands – whether they want it or not.”
Sybil sat in a corner of the small, brick room, watching as Elijah paced back and forth, like a caged animal. Guilt settled on her like a lead blanket. She tried not to catch his eye. She had to tell him. She knew that. She couldn’t keep this up forever, some secrets weighed too heavily on the soul. But she had been lying to him for so long now. And she needed allies if she was ever to stop Tommen. Besides it would only hurt him and fuel a futile quest to exact vengeance on her people which would only end with his death. She sighed heavily. Even in her own head, her excuses felt empty. It was amazing how many convoluted reasons her mind could create for what she was doing to him. It was the only way she could survive. No it was the only way she could beat Tommen. No, really, it was for his own good. He should be thanking her. She shuddered as her lead blanket of guilt was joined by an anvil of self-loathing. She couldn’t keep this up forever. In front of her, Yvonne and Solomon had set up a variety of objects for Elijah to practice with. There was a rock, an orange, a plank of wood and a chainmail vest. Every so often, Solomon and Yvonne would coax him out of his pacing and into some training. He was actually getting very good at prophesying. His visions of the past were becoming less and less frequent which seemed to make using his power less draining. There was an energy and a focus to him now, as if he could rescue his sister through sheer force of will. It was strange to watch him practice, his eyes would go so distant and he would shout gibberish at the fruit. Sometimes, he would mention the Voice and Yvonne’s eyes would light up. Other times he would speak about the fall of the Skylands, which always perked up Solomon. But most of all he would talk about a bridge opening. The last time he had talked like that he had almost killed Tommen. Sybil wished she knew what it meant. It felt important. Too important to be locked in the cryptic babblings of a Seer.
As the days passed, news would trickle in about the war. It was mostly bad. Very, very bad. Hundreds had died already. Lostheo had been razed to the ground. Sybil didn’t know why she was surprised. No one was a match for the Skylander armies, not while they controlled the Wyverns. Ekriam was the only city which hadn’t declared war on the Skylands and for that reason they alone had been spared. It wasn’t like anyone in Ekriam even had the authority to declare war anyway. The city hadn’t had a real leader in decades, lest the Seers try to return to power. Sybil wondered about those she had left behind. Was Sam fighting in the war right now? What would she do, if she was forced to choose a side? Would she abandon her own nation for a band of terrorists? Or would she prop up a dictator? They weren’t great choices. But then again, that was life at the moment, just a series of terrible choices, one after another. Even eating had become a difficult decision. The only food on offer came from a jar that Yvonne kept. It was a strange, fine grain that never seemed to run out, no matter how much they ate. Yvonne made bread and porridge out of it. Sybil wasn’t sure about how she felt about eating grain that came from a Seer. And she hated not knowing [_how _]it worked. Everyone knew that using a Seer’s power on food spoiled it. Even Elijah, who seemed to know as much about his powers as he did about the Pulse, avoided eating the food he trained on. But there was never anything wrong with the grain. It may have tasted as bland as a heavily sanitised piece of paper, but it was perfectly edible. So while Elijah trained and paced, Sybil spent her time staring into the jar, emptying its contents on to the only table in the room and examining every grain. A week passed and she steadily accumulated a mountain of grain in one corner of the room while Yvonne always had enough to feed them all. It was infuriating.
In the evenings Yvonne would regale them all with some rubbish about the Voice of Time. Sitting in the darkened room, with the candles spluttering and Yvonne’s hushed voice whispering ancient tales about a secret voice that only speaks to chosen Seers, Sybil began to worry that she had strayed into a cult. Of course then she would realise that she was leaning back against a pile of magical grain. If she was in a cult, they knew their stuff.
A week passed and Elijah couldn’t take it any longer.
“I can’t keep training with you,” he told Solomon. The old Seer looked crestfallen and Elijah began to feel like he was kicking a puppy. He ploughed on regardless. “Truth is up there somewhere, scared and alone. I can’t hang around until the Future Storm get their tactics straight. I have to do something!”
“You must wait for the Voice to show you the way,” insisted Yvonne. “It will come to you, like it came to me, like it came to Solomon.”
“I don’t even know this damn Voice exists!” exploded Elijah. “I’ve been patient. It’s had its chance, but I’ve heard nothing for a week! Meanwhile, I know that Truth is up there in chains. I’m going to rescue her and I’m going to do it now.”
“You don’t even have a plan!” protested Solomon. “You go up there and they will do nothing but mow you down.”
“Maybe the Voice will protect me,” replied Elijah glibly.
At that, Yvonne’s eyes lit up. “Maybe it will…” she replied, seeming to have come to a decision.
“You can’t be serious, this is insane. Elijah, I have spent too much of my life hunting for you for impatience to be the death of you!”
“Well if I wait here any longer it’ll be old age that does us both in!” replied Elijah, frustration coursing through him. “Every minute I spend here is another minute she is spending in chains.”
“How are you even going to get out of here? Hm?” asked Solomon. “And what are you going to do when you get up there? There are Wyverns on every street corner, the whole city is built to find and kill Seers! Are you in such a rush to join your sister in the grave that you’ll join every suicide mission that presents itself?”
The room went deathly still.
“I didn’t mean…”
“My sister is not dead,” said Elijah, his words faint and pathetic even to his own ears.
“And I am going to rescue her.”
He turned and strode from the room.
Elijah fumbled his way through the tunnels, tripping over his own robe, his mind a mess of emotion. Was that what they really thought? That he was just fooling himself, clinging on to hope where there was none? But he couldn’t give up on her. Not now, not ever. He had abandoned her to the mercy of the mob. It was his fault she was in chains. He couldn’t leave her. He had to save her. He had to. Images of Truth welled up in his mind, her straight black hair framing her round, serious face. She had never given up on him. He remembered the day he had first found out he was a Seer. It had been a Tuesday. He’d been sitting in the kitchen with his father and Truth as the sounds of the Arrival rang out through the night. And his skin had started glowing. Truth had been five at the time, but even at that age, she’d known what it had meant. She’d known that the Guardians outside were hunting for him. And before his father had said anything, before Elijah himself had even begun to register it, she had taken him by the hand and led him into the room they shared. Together, they had crawled under the bed and with the glow of Elijah’s skin illuminating her pale face, Truth had laid one finger to her lips. “Let’s play hide and seek,” she had whispered.
It was the day Elijah’s life had changed forever. He’d been terrified. But his little sister had looked after him. She’d turned it into a game, which had somehow made the madness of it all manageable. But that wasn’t how it was supposed to be. He was the older one. He was supposed to take care of her, to look after her, not the other way around.
“Elijah?” he turned around, emerging from his thoughts slowly, unwilling to face the reality of his circumstances. It was Sybil.
“Don’t go up there, Elijah,” she said. “They’ll kill you.”
“I have to. Truth is up there. She needs me. I have to be there for her.”
“You don’t even know your way out of these tunnels,” replied Sybil, her voice calm and reasonable. “Let alone how to get back to the Skylands.”
“I’ll show him,” answered Yvonne, appearing on Elijah’s left like a ghost in the night. “And there are Wyverns in every square. If you free one of them Elijah, it can take you to your sister.”
“You don’t even know if she’s alive,” argued Sybil, her voice strained.
“That is why I have to go up there. One way or another, I have to know the truth.”
Sybil bit her lip, looking like she wanted to say more, but instead she just turned away, leaving Elijah and Yvonne completely alone.
The air was dry underground and the smoke from the torches stung Elijah’s eyes. Yvonne’s walking stick echoed against the walls as they walked, lending an eerie rhythm to their journey. Slowly, she led them through the maze of passageways until they came to a rickety wooden ladder. Above it was a trap door.
“Go on then,” said Yvonne, waving her hand at the wooden hatch.
Elijah laid one hand on the ladder as if it might bite him. It wasn’t that he thought of himself as a cowardly person. It’s just it was a lot easier to put Truth’s needs first when his own needs weren’t staring him right in the face. Like his need to keep his tongue attached to the rest of his body.
“I didn’t say to pet the damn thing. Ladders are made for climbing. Get up there.”
Elijah laid another hand on the wooden frame. Then Yvonne began hitting his legs with her walking stick.
“Get up there, get up there, get up there!” she shouted like a demented parrot. “Show the Voice that you have faith!” Elijah scrambled up the ladder as fast as he could. There was no better cure for a fear of what might happen than a fear of what is currently happening. He threw open the hatch and found himself in a barn. He breathed a sigh of relief and levered himself up and out of the passage. Now he could spend a few minutes getting his bearings, getting the lay of the land and planning out exactly what Wyvern he wanted to steal. Maybe he could even create a distraction and take it without anyone noticing. There was clearly one close by. His skin was glowing already. He was still mulling his options over when the barn door was flung open and two Guardians walked in.
The Guardians just stopped and stared. One of them was holding a sandwich. The other was holding a flagon of ale. For a moment, Elijah began to entertain the possibility that maybe the Voice had blinded them to his glow and really they were just wondering what this random guy was doing at their favourite lunch spot. But they weren’t staring for long. Soon they were shouting and waving pointy bits of metal, the sandwich forgotten. It had looked like a nice sandwich too. Elijah backed away from them, putting a dozen feet of dust and straw between himself and the two burly men. Behind the two Guardians, the barn opened out onto a large square, paved in red bricks. In the centre of it stood a huge granite pillar. On top of the pillar stood a metal cage and within it sat a Wyvern which was shining just as brightly as Elijah. Brilliant. That was his ticket out of here. All he had to do was learn how to fly in the next ten seconds. The Guardians were just a couple of feet away now and Elijah decided that flying ambitions aside, just standing there wasn’t that good of an idea. He ran straight towards the Guardians, screaming a fierce war cry that came out just a bit too high-pitched to really be threatening. One of the Guardians raised an eyebrow and made to grab him, but the funny thing about wearing two tonnes of chainmail is that it tends to slow you down. Elijah dodged nimbly to his right and avoided both of them, sprinting into the centre of the plaza. He tried to climb the pillar, but it was smooth granite and too wide for him to get any sort of a grip on. He looked around himself frantically, panic sending the world into disarray. The timeline flashed in one corner of his vision, its bright colours calling to him. He could use it to collapse the pillar, but the fall could break the Wyvern’s wings. And if it did he would be all out of options. All around him, Guardians began spilling into the plaza from nearby alleys, attracted by the glowing Wyvern and the other’s shouts. That made up Elijah’s mind for him. He sprinted forward, shoving aside a cart of vegetables, aiming for an alley which no Guardians had yet emerged from. If he could just get away from the Wyvern, he could lose them.
Wrong alley. As soon as he entered, he saw three Guardians running heavily towards him, chainmail clanking. Elijah glanced over his shoulder, panic threatening to overwhelm him. Hundreds of Guardians were filling the plaza from all angles. There was no going back. He ran forward, neatly sidestepping the first Guardian, ducking under the arm of the second and taking a slash in the side from the third. He heard cloth tear and flesh rend. A searing pain shot through him and he shouted in anger. From the corner of his eye, he grabbed the timeline flinging it at the alley’s side. “The wall will fall!” he shouted, and it disintegrated. He dived through, away from the shocked Guardians, glad that there’d been no accompanying vision to disorientate him.
Behind him, Guardians began flooding through the gap in the wall. He sprinted left up another alley and suddenly found himself in another square, with another Wyvern shining brightly atop a pillar. It seemed to scream a warning and Elijah noticed that the creature had been beaten; its crystal skin was cracked and oozing a strange translucent blood. Then the Siren sliced through the air. It burst his eardrums and Elijah cried out in pain, but he had no time to cover his ears. After a week talking to Yvonne he now understood what that Siren really meant. It didn’t just signal the Arrival. Only Pulse-Masters could use it and it was they who were coming. He dived down another alleyway as a wall exploded in flames behind him, debris scattering everywhere. The alley was miraculously empty and Elijah sprinted through it, only to stop dead as he met a massive wall with the number eight inscribed on its stone surface. Atop it, two Guardians stood, carrying the reins of three cracked and oozing Wyverns. Elijah’s entire body exploded into light. In the centre of the wall stood a massive archway, locked shut by a black metal gate. Elijah looked behind him. Dozens of Guardians were flooding the alley, their crazed shouts echoing off its sides. Atop the wall, a white robed Pulse-Master joined the two Guardians, his eyes narrowed towards Elijah like a hawk. Which made Elijah prey. He was trapped. Sweat dripped down his forehead. He could feel his heart pounding out hot blood that seemed to burn his lungs. The air was cold and a stiff breeze cut his skin. He did not want to die here. Then the earth exploded beneath his feet.
The stone pavement erupted in a shower of earth and stone, flinging Elijah across it. He looked up dazed, adrenaline still chorusing through his veins. Around him, Guardians were shouting in panic as the gateway sank into the ground. Suddenly, dozens of soldiers and Seers started flooding out of the pavement. Fire descended from heaven, consuming the Guardians and the Pulse-Master atop the wall.
“Take the walls, seize the outer courtyards!” a familiar voice shouted. Elijah looked up, confused, staring at Ash.
“Did you come to save me?” he asked, breathless and confused.
Ash snorted. “Don’t flatter yourself,” she turned away from him then, barking out orders as Seers and soldiers scrambled through the broken archway and into the courtyard. “Kill any who resist,” she shouted. “Ekriam now belongs to the Future Storm!”
Elijah was too relieved to process her words. He sat back on a mound of rubble, breathing hard. All around him, Seers and soldiers milled, with the soldiers forming into disciplined ranks as the Seers wandered aimlessly around the place. One fixed the archway before it collapsed on them while another destroyed the metal gate at its centre. Soldiers marched through it to be met by screams and shouts for help. Above him, Wyvern-riding Guardians flew frantically between the walls, alerting other guard posts. The clatter of bells rang through the air.
Suddenly, a riderless Wyvern arrived, just a few feet away from Elijah.
[_Battalions 1, 5 and 8 were successful, _]the familiar voice of Xanthius reported. _2, 3, 4 and 6 are still struggling. _
Ash nodded. “Once we secure 9 we’ll send troops there,” she said. Then, abruptly, Xanthius took off and Ash began shouting again. “First, second and third division: leave sector 8 for battalion 8. There is a plan here people! Secure the eastern courtyard before they get a foothold. Come on!”
Elijah stood up, kicking rubble away as he did so. Now every city was at war. Finally, the Future Storm were getting somewhere. He staggered back down the alley and began to hunt for a Wyvern.
Back in the eastern courtyard, bodies littered the ground. Screams and shouts echoed from the granite walls as men and women fought and died. Blood and sweat and the stench of death filled the air. Elijah gritted his teeth, steeling himself against it. Above him, free Wyverns flew, snatching Guardians off the ground and tossing them from the air. Their bones made a sickening crunch when they fell. Few soldiers fought man to man. Most attacked the Guardians in groups, overwhelming them through sheer force of numbers. Others guarded Seers, surrounding them in a horseshoe which steadily rotated, sending death in all directions. It was not as simple as Elijah had imagined it. Everything was chaos.
‘At least it gets the job done,’ he thought, trying not to look at the faces of the dead strewn around him. He could taste death in the air. It was hot and rancid. The different fighting divisions were indistinguishable and Elijah edged warily between buildings, uncertain what to do. He felt dizzy in the courtyard, the stink and the screams were overwhelming. He lifted a hand to his forehead, feeling sweat there. He leaned back against the wall breathing heavily, trying to get his thoughts together. He’d come up here for a reason. He began to look around for a Wyvern, but they all seemed to be occupied with the business of dropping their former masters from the sky. He took a few deep breathes, finding the action harder than it had any right to be. He felt drained. It was then that he noticed the blood seeping out of his side, darkening his woollen robes. He stared at the blood, unable to comprehend it, before collapsing to the ground.
Sybil sat in a corner of Yvonne’s small, brick room and stared at the ceiling. Above her distant shouts and screams echoed their way to down to the small chamber. Opposite her, Solomon was giving her a nasty look. They sat in silence, having long since worn out the topic of whether she would betray them or not, which seemed to be the only small talk Solomon was willing to share with her. Neither of them had a clue what was going on above them, but if Sybil had to guess, it would be that the Future Storm had finally made their move. Damn terrorists were going to get Elijah killed.
“Solomon, get out some bandages and some water!” Yvonne’s voice barrelled into the room ahead of her. Solomon bolted upright as the elderly woman came sprinting through the door with a man Sybil did not recognise, the two of them cradling Elijah’s body between them.
“What’s going on?” Sybil asked, staring at the stricken Seer.
“Elijah was stabbed,” answered Yvonne shortly. “Quickly, clear the table.”
Sybil ran over to it, taking plates, the jar of meal and various writing utensils off it hastily. Panic filled her. He couldn’t be dead. She was the reason he’d gone up there. If he’d told her the truth about his sister, he never would have left. Yvonne and the blonde man she had walked in with carefully placed Elijah on the table. His face was white. Wordlessly, Solomon handed her some bandages. They wouldn’t work, Sybil knew. She could tell from his skin colour alone. The wound was too great.
Solomon hurried past her, emptying a jar of water into a basin and soaking a towel in it.
“First we clean the wound,” muttered Yvonne, ripping off Elijah’s woollen robe and pressing the towel against his side. “Then we hope he really did learn some faith.”
Sybil fell back against the brick wall behind her. This couldn’t be happening. They were leaving the life of the only friend she had in the hands of a crazy mystical Voice. Panic filled her momentarily, but she pushed it down hard. She was a Student of the Drum. She did not feel emotions, never mind let them get the better of her. She shut her eyes, focusing on the situation at hand, visualising Elijah’s body. He’d lost a lot of blood, but if she could seal his wound, he would survive. She knew how to do it, it was complex but she wasn’t so poor at healing that it was beyond her. Saving a Seer’s life went against everything she had ever known, but everything she had ever known had been a lie. She knew that. And she was done pretending otherwise. She pushed herself forward, moving towards the table.
“Let me past,” she commanded. “I can heal him.”
Solomon snorted. “Finish the job more like,” he said, barring her way. “You Skylanders are good for only one thing and it is the exact opposite of living.”
“Move Solomon!” Yvonne shouted. “I will not let him die because of your bigotry!”
Grumbling, Solomon stepped aside. Sybil took Elijah’s hand in hers. It was cold and clammy. Within herself, she searched for the beat of the Pulse. It was weak this far underground, but it was there, as consistent and dependable as ever. She let it engulf her, allowing its steady beat to become a part of her even while she tried desperately not to think about what it was. She stared at the wound, trying to remember her lessons from Advanced Healing. She’d practiced this on Wyverns a thousand times. This was… no different. She felt bile rise in her throat, but she swallowed it back down. She was a Student. She was cool, calm and collected. She took a deep breath and changed the key of the Pulse. The shift was harder than she’d expected. Sweat beaded on her forehead as she tried to make the transition. What had been easy in the Skylands, even in the desert, was now almost impossible. It was like she’d hit a brick wall, like the Pulse just didn’t want to change. Then, in an instant, it gave way, the beat’s pitch becoming higher, yet smoother. Sybil focused everything she was, everything the Pulse was, at the wound. Elijah’s body began to shake.
“What’s she doing??” Solomon shouted distantly.
“It’s too late now. Let her work!” Yvonne replied.
Sybil directed the beat at the sides of the cut, glad that Yvonne had already cleaned away the blood. Steadily, she let it surround it, covering Elijah’s side in a cacophony of sound. Suddenly, blood spurted out, the dark red liquid oozing across the table. Sybil’s heart skipped a beat. What if she killed him? It would be all her fault. She might as well have stabbed him herself… No. No emotions, she scolded herself. Steadily, she let the beat inch closer to the edges of the wound, splitting the sound and using it to close the skin together. As if like magic, the cut began to close. Slowly, the flesh moulded together, becoming one, drawn together by the need of the beat to become one again. Sybil wiped sweat from her forehead as she finally finished and then stepped away from the table, breathing heavily.
“It’s done,” she gasped.
The first thing Elijah noticed was the pain in his side. He groaned and tried to sit up, but it forced him back down. He moaned pitifully. He’d forgotten he had been stabbed. What a thing to forget. There was a flurry of movement and then Sybil was at his side.
“Take it easy,” she said and Elijah noticed that her eyes were weary and bloodshot.
“That stuff about the Voice is a load of bull,” he groaned.
Sybil smiled wryly, but didn’t reply. Instead, she took his hand in hers. It was warm, either that or his was just unusually cold and clammy. He was pretty sure it was the latter.
“What happened to me?” he asked, his voice slurring like he was drunk. “Where’s Yvonne and Solomon?”
“You didn’t notice being stabbed?” Sybil asked, shooting him a sidelong glance.
“Oh, I noticed that no problem,” replied Elijah. “I didn’t notice myself walking back here.” He moved one hand to his side. He traced a finger along the scar line, wincing at the contact. “I didn’t notice myself getting magically healed either.”
“Yvonne and a friend of hers carried you here. I healed you,” answered Sybil.
“Oh,” replied Elijah, uncertain how to take the revelation. He didn’t know why what the Skylander did still surprised him. “Thanks,” he managed to splutter out.
“You are welcome,” answered Sybil stiffly.
Well, this was awkward.
“Where’s Solomon and Yvonne?” he asked again.
“They’re above, helping Ash with the defences,” answered Sybil, her expression suddenly ice cold.
“That was fast, they must have had a good plan to capture the city so quickly.”
Sybil stared at him for a second. “It’s been three days since you were stabbed Elijah,” she said. “What they’ve done in that time has been anything but quick.”
That silenced Elijah. He remembered the bloodbath in the courtyard. That replicated across the entire city… the dead must number in the thousands.
He stared up at the low, rocky ceiling, imagining the battle raging for days as soldiers and Guardians fought house to house and street to street.
He felt gingerly along his scar line. It felt like someone was pinching him. Continuously. With really sharp nails. “I don’t suppose there’s any sort of Pulse painkillers are there?” he asked.
“Sure there are,” replied Sybil, concentrating briefly before hitting him in the head. The world went black.
Elijah was not happy when he woke up again. Now he had a pain in his side [_and _]his head.
“What did you do that for?” he asked irritably.
“You were complaining,” answered Sybil shortly.
Trying and failing to ignore the pain, Elijah sat up and stared at the Student. Her eyes were definitely bloodshot and her hair was a tangled mess.
“When was the last time you slept?” he asked.
“While my people were being slaughtered, I hid down here,” replied Sybil. “The thought doesn’t inspire pleasant dreams.”
“Both sides would have killed you given half the chance, you know that,” answered Elijah, rubbing his head. “There was nothing you could have done.”
Sybil bit her lip and looked away, her eyes seeing nothing.
“You could join us you know,” said Elijah. “Properly, I mean. Not just tagging along for the free tour through the desert. You could fight in this war too, see Tommen destroyed. Really dead this time. None of this is-he-dead-or-isn’t-he rubbish like we got when I blasted him with the power of Prophecy.”
“And how many Guardians would I have to kill?” asked Sybil. “How many friends I grew up with? You could not possibly understand. If I do nothing, I am helpless. If I do everything, I will always hate myself.”
“If you want to kill Tommen, you will have to kill others to get to him, Sybil.”
“Don’t you think I know that?!” snapped Sybil. “Why do you think I can’t sleep at night?”
She turned away and Elijah lay back down again, trying to figure out what to say. The silence stretched on.
“Do you believe in any of this Voice stuff?” asked Elijah after a while.
Sybil shrugged, staring at the mountain of grain she’d amassed. “That didn’t come from nowhere,” she said.
“Do you think I’m really the one they’re looking for then?” asked Elijah. “Do you think I’m going to make the Sky fall?”
Sybil snorted. “You? Come on. You couldn’t make rain fall.”
“Thanks for that.”
Sybil said nothing.
“You know what? I’m glad I’m not from Aubrey anyway,” announced Elijah, working himself up. “Because if being stabbed is what it’s like being their [_Aontaithe _]or whatever they want to call it, I don’t want any part in it.”
“You are such an ignorant people,” blurted out Sybil, her tone exasperated.
Elijah sighed. “Alright, I’ll bite, what don’t I know this time? What, with your vastly superior knowledge, does the Skylander know that I do not? Go on, tell me what they brainwashed you with.”
“You are from Aubrey, Elijah,” replied Sybil.
“What?” asked Elijah, confused. “I thought you didn’t think I was the chosen one.”
“Oh I don’t,” said Sybil. “Not at all. If you’re the Earthland’s saviour then I might as well go home and tell them to stop sending troops. The war would be over in a day. But you [_are _]from Aubrey. If you’d learned even a bit of history you’d know that.”
“I think I know where I was born, thanks,” replied Elijah acidly.
“But do you know where you were born when that Prophecy was written?” asked Sybil. “Look at the map on the wall,” she indicated the yellowed parchment that had hung there since they’d arrived. Elijah suspected it had been hanging there since someone first figured out that writing down how to get to places was a good idea.
“Yeah, that’d be real useful if you Skylanders hadn’t burnt down all of our schools,” grunted Elijah.
“As I said, ignorant,” sniffed Sybil. She pointed towards the top of the map. “There is Aubrey and there is Prazna. Notice anything about them?”
“I told you, I can’t read a map,” answered Elijah, feeling himself getting annoyed and frustrated by his own lack of knowledge.
“They’re cities, Elijah,” replied Sybil. “Cities within the one country. The country of Aubrey. Before the War on Time, there were only six countries in the Earthlands. Now there are nine cities instead.”
Elijah stared at the map in bewilderment, before abruptly shaking himself. “This doesn’t change anything,” he said. “There’s hundreds of Seers from Aubrey.”
He stood up suddenly and felt blood rush to his head. He staggered back, feeling dizzy, clutching the table. The sensation cleared after a few seconds and he righted himself, deliberately not looking at Sybil.
“I meant what I said before. Being stabbed hasn’t changed that and some old map definitely hasn’t. I have to go rescue Truth, being the Aontaithe isn’t as important as that. Come with me. Maybe, together we can beat Tommen. That’s what you want isn’t it?” Sybil looked back at him warily. Her skin had become a sickly white after being underground for so long and her face looked haggard.
“Where are you going to get a Wyvern?” she asked.
Slowly, Elijah and Sybil made their way out of the twisting tunnels. Neither of them were in any hurry to remain inside the oppressive maze but their progress was slow. This was partly because they barely knew the way out and partly because Elijah’s body seemed to have forgotten how to walk after lying on a table for three days.
“Why did you save me?” Elijah asked after a while.
“Why wouldn’t I?” asked Sybil briskly, her gaze fixed on the passage ahead of them.
Elijah shrugged. “All the effort you people have gone through to kill people like me. It just seems… uncharacteristic.”
“Uncharacteristic?” Sybil’s mouth twitched into a smile.
“You know what I mean,” grunted Elijah. He looked away. He found he couldn’t quite think straight when she was smiling like that.
“You saved me too,” answered Sybil.
Elijah nodded. “From Tommen.”
Sybil shook her head. “I probably would have gotten away from him anyway, I didn’t need you for that.”
“You could have gotten away from the man who could move every part of you like a puppet?” asked Elijah sceptically.
“I’d have found a way,” growled Sybil.
“Right, like -”
“It’s not important,” interrupted Sybil. “What I’m trying to say is… you saved me from myself, from Tommen’s lies. When I found out about the Wyverns… life didn’t make any sense to me anymore, I’d have burned that whole camp up just for the chance for something to feel real again, I’d have kept going… I’d have kept going until they stopped me.”
She stopped walking and turned to him, her smile gone but her eyes glued to his. “You saved me from that.” Elijah’s heart stopped. He wanted to say something. He knew he had to say something, but the words wouldn’t form in his head. He just stared at Sybil, unable to look away. “Elijah there’s something I have to tell you -”
“Aha I knew it!” interrupted Solomon. They both turned towards the old Seer who seemed to have materialised out of nowhere. “Don’t let me stop you,” he continued. “Go on, I’ve been waiting to hear this confession since I met you. Never trust a Skylander, that’s what I always say.”
“What I was [_going _]to say,” replied Sybil. “Is that maybe you Seers aren’t as bad as all that. But obviously there are always exceptions to that rule.”
She returned his glare.
Solomon ignored her. “What are you two doing wandering around down here anyway?”
“We’re looking for an exit and then we’re leaving Ekriam and we are going to rescue Truth. Don’t try to stop us.”
Solomon put his hands up defensively. “Look, if being stabbed isn’t going to change your mind, I don’t think there’s much I can say. I’ll even find Xanthius for you. I’m sure he’d be happy to give you a lift. But before you go, just indulge me one last time. Let me show you something.”
“What is it?” asked Elijah cautiously.
“You’ll see,” replied Solomon mysteriously, setting off into the darkness without waiting for a reply.
Under Solomon’s leadership, the three of them were quickly above ground. Elijah was of two minds about whether that was a good thing or not. On the one hand, he needed to find a Wyvern and it was good not to be trapped in the oppressive darkness anymore. On the other hand, Solomon seemed to delight in keeping them in the dark about their destination and the air outside stank of rot and death. The exit they came out of faced into a large square, something Ekriam seemed to have in abundance. Bodies were burning in every corner of the plaza, the rancid black smoke so thick it looked like it held up the sky. A razor sharp wind cut through the air, but did little to disperse it. Solomon led them up a set of thin, stone stairs and onto the edge of a huge, granite wall. Before them, the whole city was spread out. The wall was over twenty feet high and it stretched all the way towards the Temple, a huge square monolith which stood at the heart of the city. Around it eight other walls radiated outwards, like the spokes of a wheel, effectively splitting the city into nine.
“Behold our destination my rapt pupil!” declared Solomon, pointing dramatically at the huge building.
“Well, that was quick. Can you point me towards Xanthius now?” asked Elijah.
Solomon ignored him and began to walk along the battlements.
“They tried to destroy it, you know,” he said conversationally, as if Elijah had never spoken.
“The Temple?” asked Elijah, although he knew the answer.
Solomon nodded. “They threw everything they had at it, even tried to dig it up at one point, but they couldn’t. It was the last symbol of the Seers who had ruled this city and they couldn’t do anything about it. It must have been maddening.”
“Why couldn’t they?” asked Sybil. Solomon looked at her sideways and Elijah could see his hatred battling with his desire to finish showing off what he knew.
His pride won out and he answered her: “It’s frozen in time, one of the last things we learned how to do before the Silence began. Few know how to do it now, me and Yvonne are the only ones I know of and we couldn’t prophesy to save our lives anymore.”
He sighed. “So many things were lost in the Silence.”
Sybil said nothing in reply and the three of them walked in silence, their gazes locked on the vast metropolis spread out before them. Each section of the city was divided into dozens of courtyards, with a pillar and a cage in the centre of each one. Elijah began to feel his skin prickle nervously. It was a giant prison, he realised. He suddenly began to feel extremely grateful that the Future Storm had attacked when they had. If they hadn’t, even if he’d made it past that wall, they would have caught him. There was no hiding in this city.
As they looked out over it, Seers and soldiers rushed past them, carrying supplies and building materials. A few glanced curiously at Sybil in her grey clothes, but, for the most part, they were ignored. On several of the walls, Elijah could see what looked to be catapults being constructed, their wooden structures being tied tightly down. Dozens of archers already stood ready at the battlements, watching the skies for Skylanders and their Wyverns. In the courtyard below them, civilians rushed by, getting on with whatever it was they normally did. Solomon set a fast pace and Sybil and Elijah found themselves half running to keep up.
“What’s so important about this Temple?” Elijah asked, trying to catch his breath and ignore the pain in his side at the same time.
“You’ll see,” answered Solomon, not letting up his pace.
When they reached the end of the wall, they climbed down another narrow, stone staircase. Before them was the Temple, surrounded by a wide circle of stone. It was different to the stone of the other walls, it was shinier and smoother. Elijah stopped to run his hand along it. It was like glass.
“It’s called chert,” said Solomon, watching Elijah. “It’s very rare, it’s from beyond even the Earthlands.”
“There is nothing beyond the Earthlands,” sneered Sybil.
Solomon said nothing and kept walking, passing through a chert archway. Before them, the Temple stood, its white stone dominating the skyline, contrasting sharply with the black of the chert which surrounded it. Its outline was sharp and imposing. There was barely a curve to be seen. The front of it jutted out from the main building at a right angle, inviting them in. Elijah had never seen anything so big. So this was what the Seers had done with all their wealth and power. They’d built a giant rock. Well, at least it had stood the test of time. Atop the main doorway, a huge circle, inlaid with a diamond, was etched into the rock. Each edge of the diamond touched the edge of the circle, except for its top which, instead of meeting it, curved outwards, forming the bounds of the circle. It was simple, yet imposing. Solomon followed his gaze.
“It is the symbol of the Voice,” he announced, gesturing grandly. “It has stood there since the Temple was built. Each of the points symbolises one of the gifts the Voice gives: the gifts of wind, earth and knowledge. The last point forms a circle. This is the Aontaithe, the one who will have all three.”
Elijah looked up at it. “My mother used to have a pendant with that symbol inscribed on to it. Do you think she was a member of the Future Storm?”
Solomon shrugged. “Anything’s possible but it could have just been a family heirloom. It used to be everywhere before the Skylanders outlawed it.”
Elijah looked to Sybil for a response, but she seemed to be busy staring at her shoes. They kept walking, stepping inside the Temple, joining thousands who bustled around it. The first thing that hit Elijah was the stench. He gagged, covering his nose and mouth.
“What is that?” he gasped.
“Them,” Solomon muttered, flinging his hand towards the ceiling. Above them, hanging from uncountable metal hooks, were thousands and thousands of rotting pieces of meat. Elijah gagged, just barely stopping himself from throwing up.
“The Skylanders did this?” he asked. “Some sort of psychological torture?”
Solomon’s features tightened, becoming cold and stony. “No, my rapt pupil,” he said, his voice losing all trace of emotion. “This crime was committed before their islands even came into existence.”
“It’s a relic of the Silence,” breathed Sybil, her voice sickened.
“A relic, what do you mean?” asked Elijah, confused.
“Look closer,” she said.
Elijah stared upwards and then he saw it. They were not just pieces of meat. They were tongues. Thousands and thousands of dead, rotting tongues. He felt his stomach churn. He clamped a hand over his mouth and sprinted out of the Temple, barging through the crowd in his haste. He heard chainmail clank and swords scatter to the floor as angry shouts followed him. Outside, he felt his stomach wrench upwards, pouring its contents out. His jaw locked as the vomit flooded out of him, coating the white wall of the Temple, before sliding off onto the ground in a stinking heap. The taste of bile flooded his senses and he staggered back, falling onto his hands. He shook his head, suddenly dizzy, and levered himself to his feet, wiping his mouth with his coat sleeve. He leaned forwards, placing his hands on his knees and breathed heavily.
He felt a hand on his shoulder and looked up at Sybil. Her face was concerned.
“You had better not be undoing all my hard work,” she said.
Elijah shook his head and moved a hand to his side, checking for blood. “No, I’m fine.”
Sybil nodded, satisfied. “Are you coming back in or do you want to throw up more?” she asked sweetly.
“You say that like it’s a choice,” growled Elijah, his mind still reeling at the thought of the rotten tongues.
“Everything is a choice,” said Sybil. “You choose to let it affect you.”
“Whatever,” grumbled Elijah, pushing himself upright. “At least I didn’t start setting stuff on fire.”
He breathed in deeply, his stomach quivering. He still felt faintly nauseous, but he wasn’t going to spend any longer talking philosophy with a Skylander. It was just as likely to make him throw up as the tongues were. He strode back into the Temple, trying to ignore the stench of rotten flesh. It was cold inside the limestone building, although the walls were covered in wooden panels in an effort to lend some warmth to the place. He shivered, unconsciously wrapping his arms around his body. Around him, soldiers rushed about, erecting barricades and making stockpiles of weapons. They were turning the Temple into a fortress, he realised. It made a lot of sense. Why not use the building that can’t be destroyed?
He walked up to Solomon who was standing in the centre of the huge, square room, staring up at the tongues.
“Why don’t the Future Storm just get rid of them?” Elijah asked.
“Because I froze them in time,” answered Solomon, as if it was the most natural thing in the world. “They’re as immovable as this Temple now.”
Elijah felt his stomach groan slightly, but it soon settled down again. “I’ve seen entire cities be consumed by the Breaches,” he said. “But even so it’s hard to believe we were really so dangerous that they thought they needed to do… this…” he stopped and took a few short, shallow breaths, trying to ignore the flesh hanging above them.
Solomon said nothing for a while and then lifted his arm, pointing at one of the tongues. It hung at the fringes of the Temple’s ceiling, set slightly apart from the others. “That was my son’s,” he whispered, his voice filled with emotion. “He was not dangerous.”
“I’m sorry,” said Elijah, not knowing what else to say.
“It’s OK,” said Solomon. “It happened a long time ago. But I wanted you to see this Elijah. I want you to understand, this war, it’s not just about your sister, and it’s not even just about the Skylands. Bringing them down, it’s only the first step. We have to make it so that this can never happen again.” He breathed heavily, staring at the tongue his gaze unwavering. “And that,” he said. “Is a lot harder.”
The sound of bells rang through the air. And not just one or two either. It sounded like every bell in the city was throwing a temper tantrum. Solomon continued to stare up at the tongues, as if a bunch of hanging flesh was more important than the army descending upon them. Everywhere, Seers and soldiers ran, desperately adding stone and wood to ever higher barricades.
Elijah pulled at him. “Come on!” he shouted over the commotion. “Something’s happening, we have to go!”
Solomon’s eyes suddenly lit up, as if he’d made a transition back to reality. So good of him to join them.
“Those are the city’s warning bells,” he said to Elijah. “The Skylanders are back.”
“I guess they finally noticed that a bunch of Seers had taken over a city,” replied Elijah. “Come on, let’s get out of here.”
Solomon shook his head. “Trust me my rapt pupil, this is the safest place for us right now.”
Elijah stared at the old Seer in disbelief. “There’s only one entrance to this place Solomon!” he shouted. “If we stay here, we’ll be trapped like a bird in a cage, like a fish in a net, like a chicken in a slaughterhouse, we’ll be so far trapped we’ll [_wish _]we were back in that damn Testing Centre!”
“If we don’t we’ll be killed,” retorted Solomon. “When the Wyverns come, you don’t want to be anywhere where there’s open air.”
“That’s what we have catapults for!” shouted Elijah angrily.
“He’s right, Elijah,” interrupted Sybil. “I know the tactics. The first wave will wipe out those pathetic defences.”
Elijah stopped short. Sybil and Solomon agreeing on something. It must really be bad.
“This way then!” shouted Solomon, already weaving and jumping his way through a dozen barricades.
“Way to have a calm debate,” muttered Elijah as he and Sybil ran after him, tracing his steps as he climbed four staircases. Then he abruptly stopped. Elijah almost ran straight into him. Slowing down, Solomon strode to the edge of a balcony, looking out over the city. Elijah and Sybil joined him. On the wide balcony, four archers crouched in the corners, arrows nocked. Below them, the city was in chaos. Fire had caught hold in the eastern quarter and a steady plume of black smoke emanated from it. Everywhere, men and women screamed and died as Pulse-Masters riding atop Wyverns rained fire down. Only one catapult still remained, seated on a wall to the north. It was surrounded by dozens of archers who loosed volley after volley at any Wyvern who dared to venture too close. Suddenly, an arrow flew past Elijah’s head, burying itself in the wall behind him. Elijah swore and he and Sybil both dived to the ground, but Solomon stayed standing, leaning on the balcony’s edge and staring out over the city, his face grim. Elijah heard a faint whistle and then a gurgling scream. He peaked out over the ledge, just in time to see a Guardian hurtle past, frantically clawing at an arrow which had very rudely decided to take residence in his neck. To Elijah’s left, a single archer withdrew another arrow from his quiver and nocked it to his bow. Above him, another Guardian swore, urging the Wyvern he rode away from the Temple.
“Sloppy,” sniffed Sybil.
“Good enough to take him out,” grunted Elijah.
“Not him, the Guardians,” replied Sybil. “Never attack the keep until the rest of the city is under control. That’s lesson one.”
Elijah stared at the stone faced Skylander. He wondered if there’d ever been a time when everything didn’t have to be analysed. He turned back to the city, watching the battle play out. It was not going well. In almost every sector, the Guardians and Pulse-Masters had stopped attacking. Having secured the area, they were now dropping dozens of troops, three at a time, into the heart of the city. The northern catapult appeared to be the last line of defence and dozens of Wyverns now surrounded it, raining death down. Elijah’s heart shook as he watched soldiers throw themselves before the blasts in a desperate effort to save the fragile wooden structure. There was a cheer as it loosed a pile of flaming debris, taking out one of the Pulse-Masters and sending a Wyvern plummeting to the ground. But the shouts quickly turned to screams as the remaining Pulse-Masters closed ranks, tossing archers from the walls as if using an invisible hand. The catapult never got another shot. Within seconds, it was aflame.
“The first wave,” whispered Sybil grimly.
Elijah’s stomach lurched. He had a feeling it was going to get a whole lot worse.
Elijah watched as before his eyes, the city seemed to shrink. Slowly, but steadily, the Future Storm’s forces were forced to retreat to the Temple. On the outer edges of the city, Wyverns dropped more and more Guardians and Pulse-Masters, worsening the situation. From this height, Elijah couldn’t see the faces of individual soldiers but it was obvious who was who. The Guardians in their bright, gleaming chainmail and the Pulse-Masters in their perfect, white cloaks destroyed the Future Storm’s rag-tag army with ruthless precision. Every so often, a contingent of soldiers and Seers would burst from one of the buildings, attacking the side of one of the disciplined battalions. There was a brief period of disarray before the square formation seemed to rebound against the attack, pushing the intruders out and slaughtering them against the city’s walls. Blood coated the streets.
The dull sound of a horn split the air. Suddenly, the Future Storm seemed to retreat faster, the six roads Elijah could see flooding with them as they streamed towards the Temple. Beside him, Sybil frowned.
“What is it?” he asked.
“They should be chasing them,” replied Sybil, her brow furrowed in consternation. “Once the Future Storm reach the Temple, we… I mean they, lose their aerial advantage.”
“Well do me a favour and don’t tell them that,” grunted Elijah.
Sybil didn’t reply, instead, she just stared out at the unmoving, square battalions. “It makes no sense…” she whispered.
A piercing shriek split the air, it wasn’t as loud as the Siren but it resonated with menace. Somewhere, deep inside, a dull feeling of dread erupted from within Elijah, paralysing his heart. A dark, black shadow fell over the city. Elijah’s breath caught in his throat. Far above them, a giant lizard descended from the sky. It was massive, over fifty feet long and its scales were a dark matt grey, as if it was a living shadow. On its back and tail, rows upon rows of dark, menacing spikes stood, each one a foot long and wickedly sharp. From either side huge, bat-like wings beat slowly and the wind howled around it, as if it could command even the weather. Its eyes were black and lidless and stared at Elijah across the vast expanse, as if threatening him personally.
“That has to be the biggest Wyvern I’ve ever seen,” breathed Elijah.
The creature opened its mouth to reveal dozens of razor sharp teeth. In the city, shouts and screams began to erupt from the Future Storm’s forces as they saw the creature. It inhaled, air flowing into it like a tornado and then breathed out. Fire erupted from the creature’s mouth and the Future Storm’s screams took on a new wailing crescendo as they were burned alive.
“That’s not a Wyvern,” said Solomon grimly. “That’s a dragon. Down!”
Suddenly, he pulled the two of them to the ground. Elijah shouted in surprise as he fell face first onto the stone surface. He would have complained if the air above them had not abruptly caught fire. On either side, there were horrific screams as the archers were burned to a crisp.
“Let’s get out of here!” shouted Sybil, pushing Elijah and Solomon out of the balcony’s archway. Elijah didn’t need any persuasion. Rounding the corner, he stretched his neck back around its wooden surface, staring at the scene of devastation below them. The armies of the Future Storm were no more. None but the Skylanders moved in the city. In the sky, five dragons now circled, their thin lips pressed tightly in what might have been mistaken for a smile. Elijah breathed in heavily, feeling panic take hold of him. They were trapped now. He’d known this would happen, he’d bloody known it! His hands shook slightly and he leaned in against the wall, steadying himself.
“I thought dragons were a myth,” he gasped, his voice shaking.
“I thought so too,” murmured Solomon, standing perfectly straight, his eyes wide.
Elijah threw a questioning glance at Sybil. She shook her head. “I’ve never even heard of a dragon,” she said.
“You wouldn’t have,” growled Solomon. “It’s an Earthlander fairy-tale, meant to scare children.”
“Well I’d say they’re doing a pretty good job!” answered Elijah, his voice breaking at the end. He frowned at his hands. He was unable to make them stop shaking. Suddenly, another burst of fire shot across the balcony. Elijah whipped his head back, pressing his body tightly against the wall, feeling the fire go by. All down the hallway, similar bursts of flame shot out, consuming half the building and setting the wooden panels aflame. Fear clutched Elijah’s heart. Smoke began to fill the air and he coughed raggedly. He was going to die in this damn Temple, consumed in flames. Beside him, he felt Sybil take his hand. She squeezed it tightly and stared into his eyes intensely. “There’s always a way out,” she whispered.
Elijah nodded, feeling a new kind of bravery wash over him. He hoped it lasted. Beside them, Solomon seemed not to notice their exchange.
“He shall tame the beasts of flames…” he muttered to himself anxiously. “This changes everything, everything Tommen can do, everything he knows how to do, its- .”
He cut off abruptly. Below them, a low booming thud began to sound.
Thud. Thud. The sound was continuous, dark and foreboding. It seemed to echo into the very core of their hearts. _Thud. _
“We have to get out of here!” hissed Solomon.
Elijah looked out over the stair’s wooden bannister at the solid, stone door. Thud.
Around them, the smoke was beginning to dissipate as the fire ran out of kindling.
“Isn’t it frozen in time?” he asked nervously.
“No, funnily enough we decided not to freeze the doors in time,” growled Solomon. “It makes moving them slightly more difficult.”
“Prazna’s gates are frozen,” spat back Elijah. “It’s not that unreasonable.”
“Yes, well when we built this place we didn’t exactly intend for there to be a siege did we?” Solomon shouted. Elijah could see a dark fear flooding through him. His eyes were wide, his face gaunt and stretched thinly across his cheekbones.
[_Thud. _]The door shook steadily with every strike. The cedar panels on the walls buckled and split against the stress, but the wall behind them stayed solid and immovable. Below them, hundreds of soldiers and Seers stood crouched behind barricades. Some held swords, others had bows nocked. The Seers just stood there, their eyes closed, pale ribbons of the timeline flickering around them. Every so often a burst of fire would shriek through one of the windows as the dragons circled above them. _Thud. _
“What do we do?” hissed Elijah.
“Down the stairs,” answered Solomon. [Thud. _]The strikes were coming faster now and heavier too. _Thud. Thud. Thud. Panels of cedar exploded outwards from the walls, unable to stand the pressure. Splinters and sawdust clouded the air as Elijah, Solomon and Sybil scrambled down the stairs, towards the barricades. Ordinarily, Elijah may have questioned the wisdom of going closer to a rapidly crumbling door which held a giant army and five dragons behind it, but there was no time for that now. He followed Solomon obediently, his heart hammering so hard it felt like it was going to burst out of his chest and run around the city three times. His mouth was dry and he breathed quickly, in and out, trying to focus on just that and not the sound of the battering ram. Thud. Thud. Thud.
The sounds were coming even faster now, spurring the three of them on. [_Thud. Thud, Thud. _]They reached the last step as the doors exploded inwards, shattering dust and stone fragments everywhere. The bronze tipped battering ram crashed to the floor of the Temple as Guardians flooded through. From behind the barricades, a dozen arrows loosed and a dozen Guardians came away with all sorts of fashionable feathered neck jewellery. Then came the Seers. Screaming incomprehensibly, they loosed the raw timeline, multi-coloured streaks shooting across the temple and consuming the enemy. Within seconds, the front ranks of Guardians were nothing but dust. The Skylanders began to retreat, pulling back as another round of arrows decimated their remaining troops. “Pull ranks!” a shout came from within the Temple. “Hold your fire!”
Beyond the doors of the Temple, the Skylanders retreated en masse, pushing each other out of the way in a desperate effort to get out of bow range.
The dust settled and the struggling figures of hundreds of Skylanders came into sharp focus.
“Fire!” the commander shouted.
Another row of Guardians fell. The Seers attacked next and yet more died.
The retreat intensified even further, the Guardians trampling each other in a desperate effort to get away. Within seconds, they were hundreds of feet beyond the Temple, out of bow range and even attacks by the Seers, although some still sent death spinning at them from even that distance. A cheer erupted from within the assembled ranks of the Future Storm. But the Skylanders did not fall back further. In the distance, hundreds of feet away, the Guardians and Pulse-Masters reassembled, readying themselves. But they did not move forward.
“What are they doing?” whispered Sybil in confusion.
Solomon watched the scene, his brow furrowing. “Someone’s stopping them,” he murmured. “Someone’s holding them back.”
Then a strange, fearful light lit his eyes.
“Fall back!” he shouted in panic. “Retreat!”
Some soldiers glanced at him, others looked to their commander, a middle aged man with grey hair and a thick, short beard. Some laughed. None moved. Elijah didn’t need to be told twice. When Solomon said to retreat, it was time to retreat. He grabbed Sybil’s arm and she didn’t protest. Together, the two of them sprinted down the main aisle of the Temple, away from the barricades. Behind them, Solomon continued to shout warnings, but the tight lipped commander said nothing and no soldiers or Seers moved. Cursing, Solomon ran after Sybil and Elijah, sprinting down the tiled aisle. Just in time. Behind them, screams sounded as a dragon landed before the entrance. There were frantic movements as the remnants of the Future Storm scrambled back from the barricades. Within seconds they were engulfed in flames. Terrified screams echoed through the Temple as hundreds of lives were extinguished in an instant. The smell of burning flesh and metal coated the air.
The shriek of the dragon echoed through the Temple as Elijah, Solomon and Sybil ran for their lives. Behind them, smoke and hundreds of Guardians followed. Distantly, Elijah could hear shouted commands and screams as they dispatched the remaining defenders. Their footsteps echoed in the halls with a steady, rhythmic precision. They would follow them and they would find them. Elijah swallowed down his panic, clenching his sweaty palms in determination.
“Please tell me you know a way out!” he called desperately to Solomon.
“My son served here before the Silence, my rapt pupil, trust me if there was a way out of here, I’d know about it,” the old Seer replied breathlessly.
“And is there?” asked Sybil.
“Yes as a matter of fact there is!” replied Solomon, not slowing his pace.
“What?” asked Solomon.
Elijah didn’t answer, concentrating on running through the endless, square halls. If he wanted to joke when there was a damn dragon behind them that was his stupid choice. The square hallways abruptly stopped, expanding into a massive chamber whose walls and floor were entirely covered in gold. Elijah’s breath caught at the scene, but Solomon didn’t stop there. He skidded left and then right leading them down a narrow, cedar panelled corridor that ran parallel to the gold room. Behind them, Elijah could hear the Guardian’s steel tipped boots clatter on the gold chamber’s floor. They were getting closer. They followed the corridor quickly into another expansive room, which, like the rest of the Temple, was coated in cedar. Here Solomon stopped.
“There’s three levers in this room,” he panted. Behind them, Elijah could hear the Guardians giving orders, splitting up to search every corridor. It wouldn’t be long before they were upon them.
“We need to pull all three levers at the same time,” he continued. “They’ll open a door there.” He pointed at one of the wooden panels on the left hand wall. Elijah nodded impatiently.
“Sybil you take that one,” he pointed to the right at a wooden figure. “See the little statue there? Pull its wing. I’ll take the one here.” He grabbed a hold of the winged creature, twisting its wing to demonstrate. “Elijah, you have to take the one closest to the door. You have to prophesy to get it to move, it’s the only one that needs it.”
Elijah nodded and the three split up quickly. In the distance, Elijah could hear the Guardians getting closer.
“Now!” shouted Solomon. Elijah reached out towards the timeline and let it fill him.
The Temple disappeared. Suddenly Elijah was standing in the middle of a ramshackle collection of huts. The small wooden structures leaned in on each other, as if trying to stay warm in the fierce gale that surrounded them. As was the way in all of these visions, Elijah did not feel the wind but he could hear it screaming its harsh call across the landscape. In front of him, Tommen stood, his face decades younger but his eyes the same dark beads they had always been. He held a black chain, on the end of which a Wyvern lay, its wings pierced by two swords which jutted from them, its head bowed and broken. Elijah mightn’t have been able to tell most of the Wyvern’s apart but he knew it was Xanthius. He had saved his life too many times for Elijah to forget his long narrow face, the power of the timeline curling in rainbow colours underneath his crystal skin. He lay whimpering by Tommen’s feet, a strange, translucent pus oozing from his wounds. He looked younger somehow, his features softer and his body smaller. Although hunched over as he was, it was hard to tell.
In front of Tommen, a group of twenty men stood, armed with blades and cudgels, wrapped head to toe in thick leather. They wore it like armour, their stance proud and confident.
“How many of us have died underneath these treacherous creatures?” Tommen asked the men. “We came to the Skylands to build a new life for ourselves but these animals toss our loved ones from their backs like they are nothing! While these lizards multiply, our children perish in the barren lands of the Earth. No more!”
There was a bloodthirsty cheer from the men before him, their eyes bright with vengeance. In front of them, Tommen brandished his sword, holding it high as if it may soak up the rage and hatred before him.
“This one is broken,” he announced. “It will lead us to the others. We shall go and we shall take their young and we shall raise them to be obedient!”
The men cheered and followed Tommen who kicked Xanthius ahead of him, the broken creature’s wings dragging pitifully behind him.
The vision split and for a second, Elijah was back in the temple, Solomon’s voice screaming at him. Elijah shook his head. That was strange. He had the vague feeling that, outside the vision, something important was happening. He looked around himself. The wooden buildings around him had disappeared and the light had faded from the bright noonday sun to the cold embrace of night. Bright torches flared amongst the group of men that Tommen had recruited, the shadows making monsters of them all. They stood in front of a cave, the entrance dark and forbidding.
[_“You have to run!” _]Xanthius called, his voice clear in Elijah’s mind although silent to the men who surrounded him.
“Don’t worry son,” a deeper voice replied. “We’re not going anywhere. We’ll get you out of this.”
[_“Please run,” _]Xanthius begged. And then a Wyvern fell from the sky. It swooped down like a bullet, plucking up one of the men like he weighed nothing and flinging him across the rocky ground. The mob shouted in surprise, waving their fire at the night like a beacon. Then another Wyvern came, smaller and slighter than the first but no less lethal, scattering the group, its sharp claws trailing blood. The men shouted in panic, falling back into a tight cluster.
“Keep calm,” said Tommen, his voice calm and cold, as if nothing had happened. On the ground before him, a man bled out, blood gurgling from his throat. “They are only animals,” Tommen assured them. “Animals respond to incentives.”
He put a blade to Xanthius’ throat.
“Stop these attacks or we kill this one,” he announced, his voice ringing out through the night air. “You creatures may heal but I think growing a new head would be a task too great, even for you.”
Silence greeted his demand.
“Your child is wounded,” Tommen shouted out into the night. “If you come closer, I can return him to you.”
[_“It’s a trick!” _]Xanthius screamed.
[“Of course it’s a trick son,” _]his father agreed. [“But I need to get you back.”_] His voice was tinged with panic, the responsibility of parenthood obliterating any thoughts of self-preservation.
He stepped into the glow of the torches. Now that they were side by side, Elijah wondered how he could have imagined that Xanthius was anything but a child. He looked tiny next to his father, whose large wings were the length of two grown men, side by side.
“Let my son go,” said the Wyvern, but all that escaped from his mouth was a sharp keening. “Fire.” said Tommen. A few feet away, two men appeared out of the undergrowth. There was a screech of metal. Two bolts, a foot long and an inch in diameter shot through the air. They hit the Wyvern with a sickening thud and two crossbowmen cheered, waving their weapons in the air as if hitting an unsuspecting target from ten feet away was any sort of victory. The Wyvern screamed in pain and tried to fly away, but with its wings pierced it stumbled and fell to the ground. The other men attacked it with a howl of triumph, leaping atop it with cudgel and hammer, hitting it relentlessly. Above them, there was a scream of dismay and the other Wyvern flew down, clawing desperately at the attackers. But desperation makes even the best of us clumsy and she was pulled down by the men who struck with hammer and sword until she moved no longer. Within moments, Xanthius and his parents were a whimpering heap upon the ground. Tommen smiled, his lips thin and the flames of his torch dancing in his eyes. He approached the cave mouth. Inside, four baby Wyverns huddled against a corner, their wings folded tightly against their bodies.
“Hello my children,” Tommen crooned. “We have some work for you.”
The vision faded and reality came hurtling back like a punch to the face. “Those of the Sky will enter the final resting place,” Elijah gasped. He forced the raw timeline into the wooden figure and turned its wing. Behind him and to his left, Solomon and Sybil did the same. Suddenly, a wooden panel slid open, the rock behind it grinding in protest as it moved. The Guardians burst into the room.
“Run!” Solomon shouted. Elijah didn’t need to be told twice. He scrambled through the exit, with Sybil close behind him. Solomon sprinted after them and slid through the door just as it slammed shut. The lights went out and the three of them were left in darkness.
Outside, flames were scorching the sky. Bodies lay strewn across the ground, the corpses charred and broken. Above them, the dragons still flew, dark shadows of the bright shining Wyverns which scoured the skies. Sweat dripped down Elijah’s face and his heart hammered painfully against his chest. He, Sybil and Solomon crouched behind a broken wall, watching the Pulse-Masters throw the Future Storm’s soldiers around like rag dolls. The vision was still fresh in Elijah’s mind and he looked around for Xanthius. High above them, he fought an aerial battle with the Skylanders, dodging the Guardian’s attacks and ripping them from their saddles. He fought alone and the Guardians steadily gathered around him, their attacks cracking his skin and turning his wings to rags. He’d been fighting the Skylanders his whole life. Elijah wasn’t going to let him do it alone.
“What are you doing?” hissed Solomon as he stepped out from behind the wall.
“Probably getting myself killed,” replied Elijah and he reached out for the timeline. It entered him smoothly and Elijah smiled, relishing the warm, familiar feel of the power of Prophecy. It was time to see if all those days of training had paid off. He released it. The raw timeline flew through the air, consuming one of the Guardians surrounding Xanthius. He screamed, falling from his Wyvern and landing with a sickening crunch on the ground. It was the first time Elijah had ever killed someone and yet he felt strangely calm. He didn’t look at the fallen body but at the Wyvern that was now free. It hovered in the air for a second, uncertain what to do and then it turned towards its former masters and attacked. Xanthius was no longer alone. Elijah had only a second to relish the victory before a brick wall hit him in the side of the head. He slid to the ground, stars spinning in front of his eyes. Above him a, white-robed Pulse-Master readied another strike. Then Sybil was there. She stood in front of him, her body shielding his. Elijah didn’t know what she did but the Pulse-Master cursed and moved his Wyvern away.
“I thought you weren’t going to fight them?” asked Elijah, shaking his head clear of stars.
“I’m not fighting them. I’m defending you.”
Elijah stood up and surveyed the broken city. The last remnants of the Future Storm were crouched behind rubble or atop of broken buildings. Above them, hundreds of Guardians flew, having long since abandoned a ground war. Height gave them the advantage. As did their numbers. And their dragons. They held all the cards – it was time to take a few of them away. Elijah reached out towards the bright tendrils of the timeline and grabbed them, flinging the raw timeline towards another Guardian. It caught one of his legs, leaving him hanging lopsidedly from his saddle before the leather gave way and the ground rose to meet him. Another Wyvern was free.
A dozen feet away, atop a nearby building, three or four members of the Future Storm noticed what he was doing and began focusing their fire on the riders, freeing more Wyverns. But more still kept shooting at the dragons, their arrows having little to no effect on the creatures’ thick scales. It was hard not to focus on a dragon when it kept trying to burn you alive. Elijah dived for cover as another swooped down on himself and Sybil, its flames scorching the ground. Once again, he reached out for the timeline, sending spinning death towards another Guardian, screaming incomprehensible prophecies as he did so.The rider fell and another Wyvern was free. Above him, the Pulse-Master still flew and Sybil’s forehead dripped with sweat as she fought to fend her off.
“I hope you have a plan here!” she shouted, as a blast of the Pulse shattered the wall behind Elijah, missing him by inches.
“It’s all just coming together now!” Elijah replied, sending another Guardian hurtling to the ground. For every Guardian Elijah and the Future Storm killed, another Wyvern was added to their ranks. Above them, Xanthius now had a force of over two dozen. They were more than a match for the Skylanders, their attacks far swifter and more nimble than the slaves their enemy controlled. But even as they fought the dragons rained fire down, burning the armies of the Future Storm alive and knocking Wyverns out of the sky with vast sweeps of their tails. But there was something strange about the way they fought. They shied away from the Future Storm and Elijah, never coming too close, their attacks always at a distance. Well when you could breathe fire, why would you put yourself in harm’s way? But it didn’t add up. For all the terror the fire caused, it was an inefficient weapon, inaccurate and easily avoided. The dragons did far more damage the closer they were to their prey. Dozens of Wyverns had been thrown to the ground when they first arrived and the attack on the Temple had left the bulk of the Future Storm’s army in a smouldering heap. Why not attack directly? Because they were afraid of them. Tommen had created the dragons. And if he had created them just a few days ago, they would be vulnerable to the raw timeline.
“Xanthius!” Elijah roared into the night. “Xanthius!” But his voice was cut down by the clash of battle, the roar of fire and the screams of the dying. Beside him Sybil rolled her eyes and suddenly, Elijah felt a wave of the Pulse just in front of him. “Eh..” he said and his voice blasted out across the city, as loud as any Siren. Sybil winced and covered her ears. Elijah felt the wave contract slightly.
“Sorry, force of habit.”
“I always did wonder how you guys got the Siren so loud…” replied Elijah, his voice echoing across the city. As one, the dragons turned towards him.
“Xanthius!” Elijah shouted, panic fuelling his lungs. Above him, the Wyvern turned, dodging an attack from a dragon and shooting towards the ground. He landed in a cloud of dust and Elijah coughed raggedly.
[_“This had better be good,” _]said the Wyvern, his voice echoing through Elijah’s mind.
“I know how to beat the dragons,” replied Elijah, leaping atop his back.
[_“That’ll do,” _]replied Xanthius, launching himself into the air with a great beat of his wings.
Below them, Sybil became an insect, continuing her own private war against the Pulse-Master above her. Elijah clung to Xanthius for dear life as they soared into the sky, trying to get a grip on the Wyvern’s crystal scales. Seconds later a dragon reared before them. Elijah’s heart stopped. Normally, when something terrible is far away, the imagination will make a demon of it, transforming it into something much worse than it could possibly be. But up close, the dragon was even more terrifying. Its matt black scales seemed to soak up the sun, draining the light from the world. Its claws were razor sharp and seemed to tear the air itself as it clawed at Xanthius, catching Elijah in his side. Elijah screamed as his old wound was reopened, blood soaking his robe. His vision blurred, pain obscuring his other senses.
[_“If we are to fight, fight!” _]roared Xanthius, his voice consuming Elijah’s mind. Out of the corner of his eye, the timeline flickered. Elijah grabbed it, pulling it towards him, taking more than ever before. The brightness of its light blinded him and he shut his eyes against it, the multi-coloured ribbons dancing on the other side of his eye lids. He felt it fill him, flowing through his veins like fire, fiercer than the noonday sun, more enduring than a mountain. He opened his eyes and everywhere he looked, the timeline stretched, vast ribbons of time flickering and flowing across the world. Shouting a prophecy he couldn’t understand, he lifted one hand high and pointed it at the dragon. The timeline flew from him in a bright flash of light. It hit the dragon with a crash and the beast screamed. Its body began to dissolve, vast chunks of rock dripping from it and crashing to the ground. The rock itself seemed to ooze as it fell, rippling and shimmering in the evening sun. One down. And the power still flowed through Elijah as fierce as ever before. Below him, Xanthius swooped and turned through the air, dodging the flames of the remaining dragons. Elijah focused on the closest one, a huge black beast, identical to all the others, just another seething dark shadow of pain and death. And he released the timeline. The dragon roared, a last burst of fire escaping from its lungs as it died, singeing the bottom of Elijah’s robes. It collapsed before him, its huge body turning into the same strange grey rock as it fell, its surface smeared by blood. The remaining three dragons began to pull away from Elijah, their huge, ribbed wings sending them soaring into the sky. But they could not match Xanthius’ speed. The Wyvern shot upwards towards them, his wings spread as thin and sharp as a sword’s blade. The wind swept around Elijah, screaming in his ears and blurring his vision. But then, the dragons weren’t hard to spot. Inside him, the raw energy of time itself boiled and burned in his blood. He roared at the dragons in defiance, shooting a bright ribbon of the timeline towards them. It caught one of the dragon’s wings and it screamed in pain, the effect of the timeline seeming to ripple through it, consuming it. Soon there was nothing but rock and debris raining down on them. Xanthius dodged it all with ease, but the effect of using so much of the timeline was beginning to take its toll on Elijah. Spots danced in front of his eyes and he gasped for breath. But still the timeline demanded to be free of him. He looked towards the remaining two dragons who circled him warily, shooting fire from as far back as they could possibly stay. But it wasn’t far enough. Elijah drew on every last ounce of the timeline he had and he flung it at them. A solid wall of flickering, multi-coloured light erupted from him and shot across the sky. The dragons roared in fear, beating their wings in a desperate effort to get away. But there was no escaping him. The timeline consumed them and their body’s collapsed, huge chunks of liquid rock falling hundreds of feet to the ground and hitting it with a splat of gargantuan proportions. Elijah collapsed back onto Xanthius’ back, all energy drained from him. Below him, the Future Storm still fought but Elijah knew that without the dragons, the day was won. Ekriam was an Earthlander city now, the first great victory in the Second Fallen War. He smiled, adrenaline still coursing through him, sharpening every detail and making the evening sunset look brighter and more hopeful. Then, out of the corner of his eye, he saw a hole in the world, nothing but a dark spec from this distance but still utterly unmistakable. It was a Breach and it was growing.
Xanthius screamed in alarm, alerting the other Wyverns. They hurtled down towards the ground, aiming for the few remaining members of the Future Storm. Below them, the Breach expanded as entire buildings collapsed inside it, the darkness eating through their foundations as if they were made of paper. Guardians and soldiers screamed as the Breach reached them, a thin sea of darkness that consumed all it touched.
“Get to Sybil!” Elijah roared over the scream of the wind. “We have to save her!”
Xanthius didn’t reply but instead folded his wings and dropped like a rock. Elijah screamed, clinging to the Wyvern’s neck for dear life as gravity ripped his legs from Xanthius’ back, leaving him flying in mid-air. Then, just as quickly as it had started, Xanthius opened his wings, swooping down and plucking Sybil from the ground in one perfect curve. She shouted with surprise but didn’t argue as below them the city was slowly consumed.
To one side, Solomon suddenly appeared, riding atop one of the other Wyverns. His white hair was tangled and his normally bright eyes were haunted. Elijah was happy to see he was alive. Below them, the Breach continued to grow, like the world’s muddiest puddle, and Xanthius slowly circled the city, ordering the other Wyverns to hunt for survivors. The city was in chaos, whatever the Breach hadn’t yet consumed was still in flames and smoke erupted from the shattered buildings, obscuring even the Wyvern’s keen vision. But far, below them, atop the Temple, a lone figure stood, staring at the encroaching darkness. It was Ash. Slowly, the Breach approached the Temple and as it did, Elijah could see the bright strands of the timeline surrounding Ash, expanding into a huge bubble of beautiful light.
“Please don’t,” Solomon said.
Ash looked up, a strange smile on her face, the timeline rippling and spinning all around her, a huge white sphere. The darkness of the Breach came closer, lapping at the walls of the Temple, seeming to struggle against it. Ash raised one hand in farewell and jumped into the darkness. The light of the timeline flooded outwards, covering the Breach and slowly illuminating it. There was a bright flash and the Breach closed and Ash was gone.
They stayed that night in the deserted ruins of what had been section six of the city of Ekriam. Half the city had been consumed in the Breach. In the other half, the fighting still raged, but it seemed that without the dragons her people were losing. Sybil leaned back against a broken wall, her eyes on the night sky, watching the Wyverns circle the city. Seers rode atop them. Together, they shone brighter than the stars. It was beautiful, in the same way that an exploding star was beautiful. It was very pretty, but Sybil still didn’t want to be right beside it. Not for the first time, she wondered what she was still doing here. She’d joined the Future Storm to fight Tommen and here she was a part of the worst disaster since the War on Time. The Breach had almost killed her, if Xanthius hadn’t arrived when he had… Her stomach growled, making her forget her worries for a moment. Or at least have them overridden by more basic ones. In front of her a fire burned and atop it a chicken roasted on a spit. Elijah settled down beside her, offering her a plate. Sybil accepted gratefully and began wolfing down the meat. They ate together in silence, watching the fire spark and crackle.
“This war is becoming too dangerous,” said Sybil after a while.
“That tends to be a general rule with wars,” replied Elijah.
“I was talking about the Breach. I know the Silence was wrong, I really believe that now. But I can see why it was done. That darkness…” she shuddered. “It was terrifying.”
“It all feels so pointless. We were winning, why did Ash have to manipulate the timeline?”
“Probably standard for the Future Storm,” shrugged Sybil. “They probably always keep a couple of you in reserve, just in case something goes wrong. And those dragons… for a long time, the battle looked hopeless.”
An awkward silence descended and for a few moments they just stared at the fire, watching as it painted shadows over the dozen soldiers who sat opposite them.
“Thank you for keeping me alive out there,” said Elijah, his eyes thoughtful. “And for healing my side again. You know, this is the only the first step. If we’ve taken Ekriam, we can get the other cities together and force the Skylands to free Truth, to free everyone, just like Yvonne said. It’d make a big difference, having you here to watch my back. And, you know, to keep healing all these life-threatening injuries.”
Old feelings of guilt washed over Sybil and she shut her eyes against them, resting her head in her hands. She was so tired of lying. “No,” she replied. “I’m going to go back to the Skylands in the morning. To muster this many Pulse-Masters… it would have emptied half the Drum. Tommen will be weak. I’m going to put an end to this.”
“Come with me. Like you said you would.”
“I’m not going to fight Tommen Sybil, it’s suicide. We need to follow Solomon’s plan. It’s the only way Truth makes it out of those mines.”
Sybil bit her lip and stared at the fire, her feelings refusing to be controlled and raging against her body like a virus. She could have died today and Elijah would never have known the truth. His whole life was a lie. How could she keep doing this to him?
In front of her, Yvonne and Solomon settled down, their backs to the fire, their faces drawn and haggard.
“How’s the fighting going?” asked Elijah.
“Slowly,” replied Solomon, his voice drained of emotion. “Even without the dragons, it’s not an easy fight. Ash held together so much of the Future Storm, without her… It’s hard to stay organised.”
“Who’s taken over?”
“An old man named Lenon. He actually founded the Future Storm to begin with, but let Ash take over because she was so much better at it. For now, people are following him out of respect for Ash, but I don’t know how much longer it’ll last.” He sighed. “This is not quite the glorious victory I had hoped for, my rapt pupil.”
Sybil watched the emotions play out across Elijah’s face, sympathy for Solomon’s loss fighting his disappointment.
“But we’ll still win right?” he asked.
Solomon nodded, his expression firm. “Yes, we will win. Even fighting as they are, the Future Storm have too much to lose not to win this city. But without Ash, a clear leader, it will be hard to make our case to the other cities. That is where you come in.”
“What now?” asked Elijah, his expression suddenly wary.
“Ash is gone,” answered Yvonne, speaking for the first time. “And the Future Storm need a leader. Who better than the Aontaithe? The one destined to make the Sky fall?”
“But, but, I can’t lead the Future Storm,” spluttered Elijah. “I don’t know the first thing about leading an army. Heck, I don’t even know what the word [_Aontaithe _]even means.”
“It’s meaning is lost in the mists of time,” replied Solomon vaguely.
“Of course it is.”
“We will be there to guide you,” answered Yvonne soothingly.
“They’ll never follow me,” replied Elijah, unconvinced.
“Xanthius and Solomon hold a lot of sway over Lenon,” replied Yvonne. “They can convince him to give way.”
“But I don’t want him to give way!” replied Elijah, his face a picture of panic. “I don’t want to lead an army, I just want my sister back.”
“This is about more than your sister, Elijah,” said Solomon, impatience lending a cutting edge to his words.
“Maybe to you, maybe to Yvonne, maybe to the whole Future Storm, but not to me! If I can keep Truth safe, I don’t care if the Skylands rule the world from now until the end of time! Don’t you get it? It’s my fault she’s up there! It’s because of what I am, it’s because I ran, because I left her all alone after Dad…” he stopped, choking on his words, a crazed desperation in his eyes.
“If we destroy the Skylands we can build a new world, Elijah,” replied Yvonne, her words seductively simple. “Seers won’t have to be afraid any more. What happened to your sister won’t ever happen again…”
“Stop talking about her in the past tense!” snapped Elijah, becoming aggravated now, his chest heaving. “She’s not gone. We can still rescue her, we can still get her back. She’s still alive. She has to still be alive. Everything I’ve worked for, everything we’ve done… It’s not for nothing. It can’t be for nothing…”
Sybil stared at Elijah. She couldn’t help it. His eyes were haunted and his body was hunched over itself. Even the mention of her… It had broken him, made a desperate caricature of the boy she had come to respect. Of the man, who had held her when she had discovered the truth about the Pulse, when her whole world had broken. Every minute that went by was breaking him further. Every second that he didn’t know weakened him. Even if the lie destroyed him, even if he hated her for the rest of his life… he deserved better than this. He deserved closure.
“She’s dead Elijah,” Sybil said.
“No she’s not!” growled Elijah. “I don’t care what you all think, I’m not giving up on her. I’m her brother, I’m the one who’s supposed to protect her. I can’t give up. Even if everyone else has, I can’t too. I can’t leave her alone…”
“I saw her die.” She tore the words from her mouth like a rotten tooth, each one an effort. Silence answered her, as if in the aftermath of an explosion,
Slowly, Elijah raised his head and looked her in the eye, searching for any sense of falsehood.
“In the mines. When you were taken to the Testing Centre… I wanted to see you locked up. I guess I wanted to know you deserved it, that you really were a Seer. But there was a girl there, in the mines, with black hair and blue eyes. The foreman hurt her. I tried to stop him. But it was too late. She was so small and so frail, she couldn’t have been older than nine. She couldn’t take it…”
“No, no, no, no, no!” shouted Elijah, covering his ears with his hands. “That could have been any girl, anyone. You didn’t know Truth, you don’t know what she looked like…”
“Elijah…” said Yvonne, resting one hand on his shoulder.
Beside her, Solomon just stared at Sybil, open mouthed, shock making a jagged, broken thing of his haggard features. Sybil put her hand in her pocket and withdrew the silver pendant.
“She was wearing this. I’m so sorry Elijah.”
Elijah snatched the piece out of her hand, his whole body trembling in a terrible mixture of grief and rage. He stared at it for the longest time, his finger tracing the diamond etched into it.
“You lied to me,” he snarled, his features contorted in an agony greater than any physical pain could cause.
“I was afraid,” replied Sybil, her voice shaking, but determined to explain herself. “I’d just left my home and everything I knew. You were the only person I knew in the Earthlands. I needed you to help me. I couldn’t tell you. I’m so sorry,” her voice broke and her eyes shone with tears, the emotion fighting past all her safeguards and into the keep of her soul.
“She’s been dead this whole time,” said Elijah, his voice the deadpan tones of those in shock. “This whole time and you never told me. After everything we’ve been through together.”
“I needed you,” sobbed Sybil, her voice breaking as she pushed out the words. “I didn’t want to be alone.”
“You used me,” spluttered Elijah, his eyes disbelieving. “You used my own sister. And she’s gone. She’s really gone…”
“I’m so, so sorry…” repeated Sybil, the words sounding empty and pathetic, a plaster over a gaping wound.
“[_Why?!” _]howled Elijah, his voice tortured and primal. He fell to his knees, tears flooding from his eyes like a floodgate.
“First my mother, then my father and now even Truth. Why do you Skylanders have to destroy everything!”
His voice was broken and cracked, his words coming out in tearful stuttering’s. His whole body was shaking violently and he reached for Sybil, his hands like claws, hatred twisting his expression into a contorted grimace. His every muscle was tensed and Sybil could tell he was fighting himself, that he wanted to hurt her, to throttle her and it was taking everything he had not to.
“Now do you see why the Sky must fall?” asked Solomon, always an opportunist, a note of triumph in his eyes as he looked at Sybil. “They are liars Elijah. They take and they take until there is nothing left. Lead us my rapt pupil, let us destroy them together.”
Elijah rounded on him, grief and pain turning him into a caged animal, desperate to strike at anyone who strayed too close.
“Stop playing your games, Solomon!” he shouted. “My sister is dead… she’s dead. Destroying the Skylands isn’t going to bring her back. Nothing is.” His expression was broken and haunted, grief and rage fighting for their place on a plain of broken hopes.
“Elijah…” said Sybil, trying to say sorry, but unable to find the words. There were no words for this. She watched, helpless, as Elijah walked away from her, away from the fire and away from the last remnants of the Future Storm.
Elijah stumbled through the broken city, his mind a confused mess, his fist clenched around his mother’s pendant. She was dead. She was really dead. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he’d always thought that if he worked hard enough, if he fought hard enough, he could get his old life back. He could rescue Truth and then he and her could find a place here in Ekriam. They could just live normal lives, grow up as people were supposed to grow up. But that hope was gone now. He would never see her again. He had left her to die in Prazna and that was what had happened. Nothing could match that pain, but Sybil’s betrayal had rubbed salt on the wound. A part of him had always known that Truth was gone, that he had been deluding himself by thinking she could have survived this long in the mines. But he had never thought, even for a moment, that Sybil would keep it from him. He’d thought that he had meant more to her than that. But she had used him, just like the Skylanders used everyone. Tears stung his eyes and he shut them, willing the world away from him. Gradually, he felt his feet carry him out of the city, away from the chaos and destruction and death that still raged there. Away from Sybil and the pain she had caused. And towards the plain, uncaring and simple sands of the desert. The night was cool and there was no wind. The sand was soft against his sandals and Elijah just walked and walked and walked. Behind him, the city of Ekriam slowly receded into nothing, the sands swallowing the whole world. Above him, the sky tracked the passage of time, turning from pitch black, to purple, to pink to the bright orange of dawn as in the east the sun steadily rose. Gradually, the coolness of the night disappeared, replaced by the arid heat of the morning sun.
And still, Elijah didn’t slow his pace. He felt numb, the rage of the night before all but forgotten as the rigours of reality settled upon him. He tried not to think about it. Thinking about it, just made his stomach twist, as if his gut was trying to escape from his mind. As the sun rose higher in the morning sky, his pace slowed, his body gently reminding him that he needed water to live. But Elijah just kept walking, his legs dragging him onwards. The sun beat his head like it had some sort of personal vendetta against him and he began to feel faint. Everything around him looked blurry. He hoped that was just the sun, warping the air like it does when it’s feeling particularly vindictive. Slowly, in the distance, a shape began to materialise. It was a tree. A tree in the middle of the desert. Elijah shrugged. The way life was going, he wasn’t going to start demanding logic now. He collapsed under the tree and lay back against its trunk. It was cool, even through his clothes. In front of him, the whole expanse of the desert lay. He suddenly felt exhausted. He’d been walking for far too long. He needed to get back to Ekriam, he knew, otherwise he would die in this desert. He closed his eyes. He just needed a little rest and then he’d be ready, he could make the return journey then, get back to Ekriam and… within seconds he was asleep.
“Elijah, wake up,” a voice said, intruding on his dreams. Elijah opened his eyes slowly and almost burnt his face off. Lying just beside his head was a pile of hot coals. He swore, scrambling back from the burning rocks. He looked up, searching for the source of the voice which had woken him. Truth stood before him, her long black hair framing a face which looked at him gravely.
“Eat and drink, Elijah. You can’t go on like this.”
Elijah blinked dumbly. On top of the coals was a small cake of bread and beside it a tin cup of water. Elijah stared at the meal and then back at Truth. His lips curled upwards in a desperate smile.
“I knew you couldn’t be dead,” he gasped. “I knew it. She was lying wasn’t she? They are all such liars.”
“I’m sorry Elijah,” Truth said, her eyes sad.
Elijah ignored her and stepped forwards, his feet suddenly made of lead. He reached out to hug her, to hold her, to know that she was there and that she really was safe. But his hands passed through her.
He moaned, an animalistic cry that sounded strange and foreign to his ears.
“I’m hallucinating aren’t I?” he asked to no one in particular.
“Elijah, I don’t have much time,” insisted Truth, as lifelike as ever. “Drink the water, eat the bread. I’ll be back soon.”
“Is it really you?” asked Elijah. “Or am I just imagining all of this?”
“The Voice sent me,” his sister replied, which didn’t really answer the question. Then she vanished.
Obediently, Elijah ate and drank, his thoughts whirring. He turned the pendant over and over in his hands, the silver glittering in the sunlight. He knew she was gone, there couldn’t be any doubt. Whether her reappearance was real or not, you don’t turn up in the middle of the desert to guide your brother to a mysterious deity if you’re still alive. He sighed, worn out by tragedy. All around him, the desert stretched for miles and miles. He didn’t know which way Ekriam was and he could only hope that the food he’d eaten hadn’t been a hallucination. As night gradually fell around him, he got up from the tree and began to walk. He didn’t know where he was supposed to be going, but he hoped the action would prompt Truth’s reappearance. It was easier going at night, given that there was no sun to mercilessly burn his skin. But as the hours passed it got colder and colder. He walked for about an hour, before Truth reappeared.
“You’re going the wrong way,” she said.
Elijah smiled. “Good to know.” And then he talked as quickly as he could. “Truth, I’m sorry I left you back in Prazna. I’m sorry you got sent to the mines because of me. I’m sorry they killed-” he choked on the words, unable to force them out.
Truth shrugged, as if her death was of no consequence. “I never blamed you Elijah. What were you supposed to do, fight off all the Guardians on your own?”
“I should have done something. I shouldn’t have left you and Dad there on your own.”
Truth crossed the short distance that separated them and put her hand on his. It passed straight through him, but it was the thought that counted.
“I’m glad you did what you did, Elijah. So is Dad. We’re both really proud of you.”
Elijah sniffed, a horrible slurping sound that was unaccompanied by tears only because they were already spent.
“Really. Now follow me, I have to lead you to the Voice.”
Elijah nodded and walked after her, emotions swirling through him. Despite what Truth said, he wasn’t ready to forgive himself. He had failed her, from start to finish. He had abandoned her when she needed him the most and he had failed to save her from the mines. It was his fault she was here, sent on some errand by an unknown Voice instead of safe at home in Prazna. Which raised an interesting point.
“Where are we going?” he asked Truth. She didn’t reply, but pointed one hand in the direction they were walking. In the distance, a mountain loomed. It was huge and seemed to have come out of nowhere. Which is unusual for large geographic features.
“The Voice wants me to climb a mountain?” he asked.
“Why doesn’t it come down and just talk to me here?”
“I don’t know,” replied Truth. Her voice rang with the weight of the ages, as if death had aged her prematurely. She had always been a serious child, but now there was a gravity behind her words, as if every syllable was precious to her.
“Elijah, I have to leave you again soon,” she said, turning towards him. Her voice was tinged with melancholy and her eyes shone with tears. “My place isn’t here anymore and I’ve stayed too long already. I just wanted to stay with you, for as long as possible. You’re really important to the Voice and life isn’t easy for people who are important. We miss you, we really do, but please stay safe. We don’t want to see you again too soon, if you know what I mean.” She smiled half-heartedly.
The words spilled from her in a torrent, it was the most Elijah had ever heard her say in one breath. She was different, he realised, from the sister he had left back in Prazna. She had always been brave but now there was a confidence in her eyes that he had never seen before. He wished that she’d had a chance to show that confidence to the world.
“I love you Truth,” he said.
Tears stung his eyes and he blinked them away. And then she was gone.
Dawn had just begun to creep over the horizon when Elijah reached the foot of the mountain. Before him, the dark rock towered, a strange foreign object which looked like it had erupted from the desert sands. The setting sun made a dark silhouette of it, the sky behind it a glorious pink. It was all very pretty. It was such a shame Elijah had to climb the thing. Well, Truth had asked him to climb it and he wasn’t going to let her down again.
He placed his right hand on a narrow ledge, then found another one for his left hand and began levering himself on to the rock. His feet scrambled on the smooth stone, his sandals flapping uselessly as they tried to get purchase. He jumped down and untied them, leaving them on the ground. Anyone who was willing to be out here was welcome to steal them. He lifted himself back up on to the rock and began climbing. The cliff face was smooth, making it difficult, but there was always a crevice or piece of rock jutting out to use as a handhold. He progressed steadily, letting the climb consume all his energies and distract him from his own thoughts. It was still dark and he climbed more by touch then by anything else. It wasn’t long before his muscles began to ache from the strain, but Elijah ignored the pain. He was going to beat this mountain if it killed him, and preferably if it didn’t. He gritted his teeth resolutely and moved his arm upwards, grabbing on to a ledge. The rock crumbled underneath his hand and suddenly his whole body seemed to shift out until he was swinging madly from the cliff face, with only one hand to support him. It wasn’t a particularly strong hand either. Elijah shouted desperately, as if the mountain might listen and move a little closer to his flailing limbs. He twisted his arm, forcing his body flat against the rock. His feet scrambled to find the last footholds he had used. He breathed again as they found them, feeling sweat flow down his whole body. His throat ached with thirst and exhaustion. He hated this mountain more than it was right to hate any geographic feature. He eased his hand upwards, weighing up the strength of any potential handholds. He found what he hoped was a stable one and began moving again.
His every muscle was in agonising, piercing pain when he at last managed to lever himself onto a stable ledge. He felt like he’d been climbing for years, but it wasn’t even evening yet. He looked around himself. He wasn’t anywhere near the top of the mountain, but inset into the cliff face was a cave which looked more inviting than a cave generally had any right to look. He crawled into it and leaned back against a dry wall, pulling in air with great wheezing breaths. He tried to get his energy back, but he was pretty sure it felt too abused to ever return. He gingerly examined his feet with his hands. They were scratched and felt like they had about a thousand iron splinters embedded in them, but other than that they were fine. He gasped in relief. He’d made it. He’d climbed the giant mountain of death. Now maybe someone would tell him what he was doing here.
“Seek the Voice, Elijah,” Truth said, as if on cue, her voice an echo before it had even reached his ears. Elijah whipped his head leftwards and almost smashed it into the rock. But there was nothing there, just the strange echo, as if she had opened a door to this world, yelled through it and then abruptly slammed it in his face. Elijah stood up and turned in a slow circle, wondering if this Voice was maybe a metaphorical thing. Suddenly, a shrieking hollowing wind tore through the cave, which answered that question fairly conclusively. The wind came out of nowhere, pressing Elijah’s whole body back against the rocky wall. The tornado was deafening, the sound screaming in his ears and threatening to rip his clothes off. Elijah clung to the cave wall, feeling the wind howl around him, threatening to pry him loose and send him spinning outside.
“Seek the Voice, Elijah,” came Truth’s voice, the echo audible, even amidst the tempest.
“What Voice?” screamed Elijah, but he couldn’t even hear his own words. The wind was everywhere, pushing and pulling at every part of his body and behind him the wall began to split as whole chunks of rock were ripped out of it by the force of the gale. Stones and earth pummelled his body. His vision was blurred and unsteady, the wind watering his eyes. He could hear nothing but the scream of the storm. Then suddenly it was gone. Elijah sank back against the cave’s crumbling wall and sighed in relief.
“Listen for it, Elijah,” Truth commanded, her voice taking on far more power than an echo had any right to have.
“I don’t hear anything!” shouted Elijah in frustration. He tried to stand up, but immediately fell back down as the ground began to shake. Above him, dust and debris began to fall from the roof, clogging the air. Elijah breathed it in and began choking. He tried to stay still, but the shaking was too violent and he felt himself get tossed around the cave, crashing into the hard rock. When the earthquake at last stopped he stayed still on the ground, tucked into a foetal position, trying to breathe, but not daring to say anything.
“Listen, Elijah,” Truth said. And Elijah did. He strained his ears, trying desperately to make out even the faintest sound. But there was nothing. And then there was fire. It was suddenly everywhere. It roared through the cave, scorching his skin and covering everything. Elijah hacked and coughed as it consumed all the air, becoming all it was. He felt his throat seize up. He couldn’t breathe. He tried to move, tried to stagger outside, but his entire body screamed in refusal. He could barely crawl. He was scratched and cut all over from the wind and the earthquake and now the fire seemed to be out to finish the job. Everywhere he looked, the flames blazed. He couldn’t see anything else. They didn’t move like normal flames. They didn’t catch on anything, nothing they touched caught fire. They moved too quickly for that. They flowed like water around the cave, lightly scorching everything they touched. The heat was intense and Elijah fell back against the ground, trying desperately to shield himself against it. Amongst it all, the sound of Truth’s voice rang, worry and desperation now tinging it.
“Find the Voice, Elijah!” she shouted her words echoing amongst the inferno. Elijah didn’t reply, he couldn’t. There was nothing but the blaze. And then it was gone.
Elijah lay on the ground and groaned in pain. Every inch of his body felt scratched or torn or burned. He didn’t even want to know what came next. He began to crawl out of the cave, inch by inch, dragging his mutilated body behind him. The ground was rough and uneven, but he barely even felt it. His skin was numb to pain now. Outside, the sun was setting, casting a dull glow across the desert. Elijah fell back against the side of the mountain, gasping for breath. To his left he could see the Burninglands, stretching away to the north. Even from this distance he could see the smoke and sulphur hanging over them, the occasional spurt of volcanic ash emanating from them. Above them, the Island of Otor loomed. He leaned heavily against the mountain, his eyes watering. What was all this for? Truth appeared beside him, just for a moment, her face strained with worry and fear.
“You must seek it, Elijah,” she begged. Elijah groaned. He was so sick of all of this, he was in so much pain. No Voice was worth this. Nothing could possibly be worth this. But still he tried, harder than ever before, his every sense trying to make out some sort of noise. He tried to touch it with his hands and tried to taste it with his tongue. His burnt and flayed ears strained to make out even the faintest sound over the wind. Then slowly and ever so quietly, a whisper reached him. It was not fierce like the wind, or powerful like the earthquake or hot like the fire. It was soft, yet confident as if it required nothing more than being what it was.
“Elijah, what are you doing here?” the Voice asked.
Elijah almost wept in relief, but now that the question had been asked he found he didn’t have an answer for it. When he’d left Ekriam, he’d been so angry and so hurt. But the thing about emotional pain is that after a while, it just fades into the background, as it becomes part of you. And next to the pain he’d gone through to get to the Voice, it seemed almost petty.
“I want my family back,” he said, the words seeming tired and trite, the words of every orphaned child, as if they didn’t belong to him.
“That is not the path you walk,” the Voice whispered. “Not for you have I prepared a life of joy, but one of sorrow. For through you I shall make your people a great nation once again. What was shall be, what is shall be no more.”
“But why do I have to do it alone?” replied Elijah miserably. “Why do you have to take everyone away from me?”
“You are not alone,” replied the Voice and for one awful moment Elijah was afraid it was going to tell him that really his family were always in his heart. “I have delivered the Sky into your hands. She shall protect you. She shall guide you. She shall save my people.”
“Sybil? She lied to me!” protested Elijah. “She doesn’t care about the Earthlands. She cares only for the Skylands and her own people!”
“You are all my people,” the Voice boomed, the sound of it echoing through Elijah’s mind. “I will return those who are lost. Have faith Elijah, she shall return, for her role in the new world is a great one.”
“But I don’t want her back!” shouted Elijah, aware of the petulance of his own words but desperate to have his say. “Please, I want my family back: my mum, my dad and Truth. The Skylands have taken everything from me, who else can I turn to?”
“Cling not to the past Elijah,” replied the Voice. “There only sorrow lies. Your family need you no more. You do not fight for them, but for the changing of the world.”
“But it’s my fault!” wailed Elijah, the guilt erupting from his mouth. “Everyone dies because of me! I have to bring them back, I have to make this right! Please, give me the chance to make this right!”
“There is no fault of yours in their death, Elijah,” replied the Voice gently. “They were murdered by those who had gone astray. Even now the vessel of my justice is working to avenge them. But that is not your role, you are to bring peace to the land, a peace that shall be paid for not in blood, but in equity.”
“But I let it happen!” screamed Elijah, all the guilt and sorrow he had so carefully stored up spilling out. “I failed them!”
“Do not be so foolish,” replied the Voice, its presence suddenly seeming to loom over Elijah, forcing him to his knees. The Voice had not become any louder, but it seemed closer, as if it stood inches from him if he could only perceive it. “Do you control the actions of man? I have given to every human creature the gift of choice and you may not take this from them.”
The words struck Elijah like blows, shattering weeks of guilt and shame. Elijah knew in his heart that no matter what Truth may have said, he would always have blamed himself for what had happened to them. But now he understood the arrogance of that. He couldn’t fix everything. Some things could not be undone. He stood alone on the mountain, surrounded by the glory of the Voice of Time and looked out across the world of EarthSky, a world forever divided by something far more fundamental than poverty or war. And he realised that the death of his family had always been inevitable. They had died because of this division and they had died to protect him from it. He needed to stop trying to bring them back and start trying to honour their memory. And there was only one way to do that. There was only one way to ensure that their deaths had not been for nothing.
“How do I make the Sky fall?” he asked.
17 Hours Earlier.
It had been a long, long time since life had made this much sense. Sybil rode on Xanthius’ back, bent low on the smooth crystal, watching the Earthlands recede below her. She was going home and she was going to fix things. The wind whipped around her and Sybil could feel her heart beat. The weight of lies that had burdened her for so long had been lifted. She hoped Elijah was safe but she knew that there was nothing more she could do for him. Her loyalty was to her people, not to him and it was for them that she flew. Let the Future Storm dabble in politics and war if they wanted. She was going to the source of the problem.
They flew across the Earthlands quickly, Xanthius’ great crystal wings apparently tireless. What had taken them days on foot took only hours atop the Wyvern. Sybil clung to Xanthius tightly, her arms wrapped around his long neck. It was strange riding without a saddle, but it only added to her feelings of equilibrium. They were equal now, her and Xanthius. What she had done to his people in the past… that could be forgiven. She could make amends. Soon, she would expose Tommen’s lies before her whole people, she would strike him down and the Skylands would be whole again. They would end this war and they would reclaim their unquestioned leadership of EarthSky. They did not need to rule with the sword as Tommen did. Once his grip on the Hall fell, they would be a model for the Earthlands. They would see the benefits of their democracy; steadily the Earthlanders would become more and more like a people should be. The Future Storm would crumble as need for their attacks collapsed and then this war would end. Perhaps it was idealistic, naïve even. But as Sybil rode through the sky, intent on killing a man who was centuries old, she needed to cling to a dream. She needed to know that she could change things.
In the distance, the Island of Tommen lurked. Even this far away, Sybil could tell that there was something wrong. As she came closer she realised what it was: it was barren. Sybil’s hands began to shake. Every single skyscraper was gone. They had vanished. For miles, the only building she could see was the Drum. It stood alone, its white plastered walls defiant. Xanthius landed and Sybil dismounted. Bits of broken Orock littered the barren land. Beneath her feet, the ground was stained with blood.
Suddenly, Xanthius let out a sharp warning cry. Sybil turned towards him and swiftly figured out why. A dragon was bearing down on them. Sybil half thought of getting back on to Xanthius’ back, but dismissed the idea instantly. It was bigger, faster and breathed fire. Without the power of Prophecy she didn’t stand a chance. The dragon breathed out and flames erupted from its mouth. Sybil seized the Pulse and used it to gather the debris scattered around them. The flames scorched the rudimentary shield of Orock, but they did not penetrate it. Orock could withstand heats hotter than any furnace, Sybil knew. Beside her, Xanthius flew away. She didn’t stay still either. The most basic of tactics taught that you only stayed in one place when you were in a position of power and cowering behind a pile of rocks was hardly powerful. She kept moving, twisting and running amongst the rubble, keeping low to the ground. Flames erupted before her and she twisted the beat of the Pulse, forming a rudimentary shield. It was not as strong as the Orock, but it kept her face from being blown off. It was amazing how much easier it was to use it up here. It was amazing how much easier it was to think. In her pocket, she stroked the power shard Elijah had given her. Her plan would work, she knew it. All she had to do was get away from the dragon.
“Sybil, over here!”
Sybil’s head twisted leftwards and she saw Sam. He was alive! That was something. He gestured wildly at her. Sybil released her shield and dived towards him, rounding a heap of hastily piled rubble. As soon as she reached him, Sam grabbed her, pushing her towards the far corner. She landed heavily, knocking her head against the Orock’s squidgy surface. Flames engulfed where she had been standing.
“We can’t stay here long!” shouted Sam. Sybil noticed he was bleeding from several cuts in his side. Sword cuts. And his left hand… she breathed in sharply: it was gone. It was cut off at the elbow. Nothing hung there but a stump.
Sam noticed Sybil eying his wounds and he stopped for a second, staring at her. “You’ve been gone for a long time,” he muttered. He reached out his sole remaining hand and pulled her up. “This way!” he shouted, jumping atop a mound of rubble and making his way onto the roof of their rough shelter. Sybil was hesitant to go out into the open, but she trusted Sam. Quickly, she followed him. They weren’t there long. As soon as they reached the roof, Sam jumped down into the street, running quickly between mounds of rubble.
He talked as he ran. “The Guardians will be wondering why the dragon attacked,” he shouted breathlessly. “They’ll be here any minute.”
“The Guardians? What do you mean the Guardians? You’re a Guardian!” spluttered Sybil.
Sam looked at her sideways. “Where have you been all this time?” he asked.
Sybil didn’t even know how to answer that question. She kept following Sam until they reached another mound of rubble. This one had a rough roof laid over it. He pulled her inside and they sat back against one of the Orock walls, breathing heavily.
Sam threw a sword across to her and Sybil caught it by the scabbard. “Here, take this, you’ll need it in case the Guardian’s show up. I have two and it’s reassuring if nothing else.”
“What’s going on Sam?” Sybil asked in a low whisper, belting on the sword unconsciously.
“Svan has labelled all in the Drum traitors,” he answered, between breaths. “They’re hunting us Sybil. Tommen has managed to keep them at bay with the dragons, but he can’t quite control them.”
“What? You know about Tommen?” asked Sybil, unable to believe what she was hearing.
Sam nodded. “Yes, he’s been here the whole time Sybil, kept captive right underneath our noses. But it’s OK now, he’s free. Right in time too, because Svan is after our blood. It was a trap Sybil, the skyscrapers, everything. They killed almost everybody by finding a way to manipulate the Orock, it explains why they never used it for their barracks. They’ve started a coup.”
“What? What happened to your arm?” asked Sybil confused, unable to get her head around the situation.
Sam stared at her incredulously. “Where have you been Sybil?”
Sybil put her hands on Sam’s shoulders, pulling him close. “What is going on Sam?” she asked. “Where did the dragons come from? Where are the skyscrapers?”
Sam stopped and stared. “They’re still there, Sybil,” he said at last, his voice sounding sick. “The skyscrapers are the dragons. I don’t know how they did it Sybil, not even the Pulse-Masters do, but they changed all of the buildings into those beasts. And now everyone’s dead. Only those who were in the Drum survived. They’re after us Sybil and they’re not going to stop until we’re all dead.”
Sybil let go of his shoulders, pushing him back against the Orock harder than she’d intended. None of this made sense.
“You’re wrong,” she spluttered. Everyone was dead. She could barely comprehend it. Her two Raisers, the children she’d grown up with – they were all gone.
“I saw it happen Sybil,” Sam answered. “I heard the screams. The only reason I survived was because I was on guard duty…”
Sybil’s face turned white. “What has Tommen done?” she whispered.
“What has Tommen done?” asked Sam, suddenly angry. “He’s kept the rest of us alive! Svan’s been attacking the Drum ever since, trying to kill the rest of us. It’s only been because of Tommen and his control of the dragons that we’ve survived.”
“No, you’re wrong,” spluttered Sybil. “Tommen’s evil. He’s the one who murdered everyone, not Svan. Why do you think he can control the dragons? It’s because he created them!”
Sam’s eyes narrowed. “You’d better start talking quickly Sybil,” he said. “Tommen said that you’d sided with them. He said that you might try to mislead us.”
“Us? Who’s us?” asked Sybil.
“The Island of Tommen,” replied Sam. “The Drum. All of us. It’s us against Svan and their Wyvern horde.” He spat to the side. “We’re the only ones left to keep order Sybil. The Earthlands have declared war and Svan has staged a mutiny. We need to stay together.”
Sybil fell back against the Orock, her head spinning. There went her sense of equilibrium. But no, she wasn’t going to be tricked like this. She wasn’t so weak. She had seen Tommen, he had tried to kill her. She knew the truth about him, a truth that was even more important now.
She decided to start at the beginning. “Sam,” she said hesitantly. “Tommen is not what he seems. He’s been lying to us. All of us. I don’t know what’s going on with Svan and I don’t want to. Things are bad enough as it is without adding them into the mix, but I know that Tommen is a liar. The Wyverns aren’t on the side of Svan. They’re not on anyone’s side. They’re Seers Sam, they’re the creators of the Skylands,” she stopped for a second, waiting for Sam’s reaction, but he didn’t say anything. His face was stone cold. She continued talking, trying to think of the right words. “When they created the Skylands, they overused the timeline, it’s what turned them into Wyverns and created the Pulse. They’re trapped in those bodies. That’s why they’re attacking the Skylands. They want to take the Pulse back, they think if they can take it back that it’ll make them human again. That’s why they attack. It’s nothing to do with Svan. They’re on no one’s side, but their own.”
“Sybil that means that using the Pulse is the same thing as being a Seer,” replied Sam, shaking his head in disbelief. “It means we need to Silence you. We need to Silence the whole Drum. It’s madness.”
“I know,” moaned Sybil, the reality of it crashing down on her again. Suddenly, she sat up. She had dealt with this already. It was behind her. She lifted her head up and stared at Sam intensely. “None of that matters now,” she said at last. “Svan, the Drum… I see what he’s doing now. He’s just trying to play us off against one another. He wants to keep us divided and weak so we don’t realise the truth. So we don’t destroy the real threat.”
Sam seemed to understand what she was saying, but he shook his head resolutely. “No, Sybil, you’re wrong,” he said. “Tommen would never do that to us. He’s the only one who’s kept us together, the only reason we’ve survived this long-”
“He’s lying to you Sam!” Sybil exploded. “Do you think those idiots over on Svan would be able to manipulate Orock like this? He’s the only one who can do it! He’s the one who made those dragons, he’s the reason almost everyone on this island is dead!”
Suddenly, Sam drew his sword. He retreated from her, waving it aggressively. “Tommen said Svan would send you!” he shouted. “He said they would try to break us! Well I won’t be broken, Sybil. Even by you.”
“Oh, put the sword down, Sam,” Sybil muttered disparagingly.
“Get back!” shouted Sam. With a flick of the Pulse, Sybil sent the sword clattering to the ground.
“Sit down, Sam,” she commanded. “You look ridiculous.”
Sam stared at her, his eyes wide. “You used it…” he gasped. “You used that hateful, dirty power on me!”
Sybil met Sam’s gaze. “The Seers are not what we think Sam,” she said. “You want to know where I’ve been all this time? I haven’t been on Svan, I’ve been in the Earthlands! That’s where I found out the truth about the Pulse and the Wyverns and Tommen! I might not know a lot about what’s going on here, but I know more than I ever wanted to know about my own power!”
Sam stayed standing, his eyes wide. “You have to know how crazy you sound,” he said, holding up his stump and staring at her intensely. “It wasn’t Tommen who did this to me, it wasn’t even Svan, it was one of those damn Seers that you seem to know so much about!”
“Forget about the Seers!” snapped Sybil. “Just think for a minute! Why would Svan randomly attack us? Why would they do that? In all of our history, have they ever done such a thing?”
“I don’t know why Sybil, I really don’t. All I know is that for the last two weeks I’ve had to fight tooth and nail with them just to survive.”
Sybil shook her head in exasperation. “Tell me, what else has Tommen told you?” she asked. “Did he say the other Islands are against us too? That they’re doing nothing?”
“He said that they’re scared, that they’re not interfering…” answered Sam, unsure of himself.
“Well that’s a lie too!” shouted Sybil. “Because they are attacking the Earthlands with the help of Tommen’s dragons! Open your eyes Sam, Tommen is controlling everything! He owns the Orock and with it he owns every Island! The only reason Svan isn’t on his side is because their barracks aren’t made of it. They’re not trying to kill you Sam, they’re just trying to stop Tommen!”
“How could you possibly know all this Sybil?” asked Sam.
“Because I’ve fought Tommen before, Sam,” replied Sybil. “And I know exactly what he’s capable of.”
Sybil and Sam wound their way through the barren landscape, running from shelter to shelter, their eyes constantly on the sky. It made sense of course, Sybil had guessed it weeks ago but she hadn’t wanted to believe it. The way Tommen had controlled the Pulse even when she was using it… it made sense that he could control the Orock too. Being trapped in the Drum was probably the only thing that had ever kept him from creating the dragons. How long had he been preparing for this moment? Construction had peaked in recent years. He must have been using the Probe to manipulate the Hall, to push his own agenda, just as he had almost tricked Sybil into setting him free. Maybe that’s why the Arrival had become so important… he’d wanted to wipe out the only source of resistance to his dragons.
No. That wasn’t right, there was only such blame that could be apportioned to one man. They had all supported the Arrival, they had all supported the silencing of the Seers. It had seemed so right at the time.
As they came closer and closer to the Drum, the sounds of war filled the air: the clash of swords, the surge of flames and the twang of a thousand bow strings all competing desperately to reach her ears. They crept closer to the battlefield, moving slowly. The ground was hard and rocky and scratched Sybil’s legs even through her grey uniform. Here and there, tufts of grass had begun to sprout where Orock skyscrapers had once stood. The stench of burning flesh and smoke consumed the air, crawling across her tongue. Steadily, they crested a small hill, a natural incline where a Boards stop had once been. Below them, the battle raged. It forced her eyes into place, as if pulling them with invisible strings. The army was massive, thousands and thousands of men and women sprawled across the landscape. Some rode Wyverns and loosed bows, hopelessly trying to kill the dragons. Others were scaling cracked walls. Almost everywhere Sybil looked, ladders and ropes leaned against the walls of the Drum. Some were pushed back by the Pulse-Masters, others whipped away by the long tail of a dragon. The scene was chaotic. It was obvious that Svan’s army vastly outnumbered the Drum’s bare defenders but those bare defenders wielded the Pulse far better than any Guardian and had dragons on their side. For every defender Svan struck down, they would lose ten Guardians, if they were lucky.
“How do we get in?” asked Sybil.
“We wait for night, that’s when the dragons have the advantage. The army will retreat and we can switch out with the next search party,” answered Sam.
Sybil nodded. Slowly, the two of them moved away from the fighting and found another neat pile of rubble to hide in. Sybil was getting rather tired of hiding. Sam shared his rations with her and they ate in silence. Then Sam slept and she took the first watch.
Sybil watched him sleep, her thoughts muddied and confused. She’d always thought of herself as a Skylander, even when she’d thought she could never go back, a Skylander was what she had always been. But what was left of the Skylands now? Could she ever call it home again? Irrationally, she felt a sharp pang of longing to be back with Elijah. She had belonged with him, she realised. They had been outcasts together. She stared out at the darkness, contemplating the thin pricks of torchlight that dared to fight the cloak of night. She felt unspeakably lonely. Even when Sam awoke to take his shift, she felt no less alone. He had always been a friend to her, but now it felt like he belonged in a past life. One which she could never return to.
Hours later, Sybil woke to the low sound of Sam’s voice in her ear. “It’s time,” he said. Sybil sat up, her head aching. She shook it and the muggy, uncertainty of sleep disappeared from her. She was ready. Together, they stepped outside of their rough shelter. The battlefield was now deserted, Svan’s army having long since retreated on the backs of Wyverns. They crept across its muddy surface, eyes on the one dragon that patrolled the skies above them. The rest were out terrorising Svan’s army, no doubt. As they neared the Drum, a sentry shouted out at them.
“Stop and identify!” the voice yelled.
“It’s me,” shouted back Sam.
“Sam?” asked the sentry, his voice tinged with scepticism. “We hadn’t heard from your party in days. We thought you were all dead.”
“Almost were,” answered Sam. “The dragons thought we were with Svan and…”
The sentry seemed to understand because he nodded ruefully, his face lit up by a lightbulb hammered into the Drum’s plaster wall. “Who have you got with you?” he asked.
“A survivor,” answered Sam.
Together, the two of them stepped closer to the sentry. His eyes widened on seeing Sybil.
“That’s the one Tommen’s had us out looking for,” he breathed.
“Well, now he can finally see her,” grunted Sam. “Are you going to let us in or what?”
The sentry nodded and called inside. “Open the gates!” he yelled. There was the sound of heaving and grunting and muffled complaints as what seemed to be a barricade of some sort was heaved away. Steadily, the gates opened. Light flooded the entrance as dozens of bulbs shone on them. Without using the Orock as a conduit, they had to be using a power shard each.
‘What a waste’, Sybil thought. The light was too bright and Sybil blinked rapidly, trying to let her eyes adjust after the darkness. Furtive whispers crowded around her as she stepped into the light. Sybil tried to keep calm, there was no sense in running in and attacking. She had no idea what Tommen had told them. She wished she’d grilled Sam a bit better now.
“Hush now,” a familiar voice said. Suddenly, Master Sooth stepped out into the light, wearing a long, pink dress. She smiled at Sybil familiarly and then winked. “I’m sure if she’d done anything wrong, she’d already be dead,” she smiled.
That was really comforting.
“Come Sybil,” she continued. “Tommen would like a word with you.” She took her by the arm and began leading her away, back down the Drum’s long hallway. Sam made as if to follow them, but Master Sooth stuck out one bony finger, stopping him short.
“I just want Sybil, Sam,” she sang, altogether too cheerfully. “If you were to come you would have been told.” There was a hint of a threat in that last statement, but Sam ignored it.
“I found her, I will bring her to him,” he answered, his voice determined.
“You will do no such thing,” sang Master Sooth, her voice becoming steadily more threatening. “This is not a matter for Guardians.”
“I think we’ve moved far beyond that now don’t you think, Master Sooth?” asked Sam.
“We will never be beyond that,” sang Master Sooth, her tone aggressive. It took real skill to force aggression into a sing-song voice like that.
“Sam, it’s OK,” interrupted Sybil. She looked meaningfully at him. “I know exactly what I’m doing.”
“You always do, Sybil,” Sam grimaced. “That is exactly what I’m afraid of.”
With that he turned away, walking towards one of the many corridors that led off the Drum’s main hallway.
Master Sooth watched him go then turned back to Sybil, beaming happily. Sybil made a mental note to keep an eye on her. This false cheerfulness was getting to be disturbing. Together, they began walking down the long corridor. Sybil had half expected them to go to the Security Library, but they didn’t. Instead, they made their way to the Drum’s southern wing. They walked quickly and were there within minutes. The guards at the door nodded at Master Sooth as they strode through a large marble archway. They entered an expansive room, far bigger than the Security Library. It would not have surprised Sybil to learn that it was the largest in the Drum. Its great, domed ceiling was supported by several thick pillars. On every wall, maps were set up. A narrow doorway led to a balcony on the left hand side of the room. A thick red carpet coated the floor, embroidered with a golden image of a floating island. In the centre of the room stood a huge rectangular oak table. Three men and two women poured over yet more maps which lay atop it. At the head of the table stood Tommen, his old withered face looking as disfigured as ever atop his young body. He looked up instantly, taking the two of them in with a glance. Sybil’s breath caught.
“Leave,” he whispered.
The five Pulse-Masters glanced at each other and then calmly began gathering up the maps.
“Leave them,” commanded Tommen.
The Pulse-Masters nodded and began filing out of the room. None of them looked at Sybil. Their eyes were on the floor. Soon, the only ones left were Tommen, Sybil and Master Sooth.
“Is there something you desire, Master Sooth?” asked Tommen, his tone conversational.
“You said… you said the first one to find her…” stammered Master Sooth.
Tommen smiled ever so slightly, layers of withered flesh folding onto themselves as his thin lips turned upwards. “They are leaving their home even as we speak,” answered Tommen. “You can take a Wyvern straight to them, if you so wish.”
“Thank you…” burbled Master Sooth, her words saturated with relief. Tommen made that same, disgusting smile as she backed out of the room.
Sybil didn’t watch her go. She didn’t dare take her eyes away from Tommen, even for a second.
“Have you come to beg for forgiveness?” he asked, his words as soft as silk.
“I don’t beg for anything,” answered Sybil. Her voice was calm and collected which was fortunate given that she felt like screaming and then running far, far away. But her training as a Student was kicking in. She would not be goaded into fear.
Tommen stepped away from the table and began to circle her, keeping about six feet between them. His feet were bare, Sybil noticed.
“You are very brave,” whispered Tommen. “Far braver than these things you call ‘Masters’.”
Sybil shook her head. “I’m not brave. I’ve just had a long time to think.”
“Oh?” asked Tommen, a faint question on his lips.
“You crave power,” answered Sybil. “You’re addicted to it. You follow it everywhere and would do anything to get more of it. Frankly, it’s disgusting.”
“You hurt my feelings,” crooned Tommen.
“I figured out how you control the Pulse,” continued Sybil, her heart pounding. “It wasn’t hard. Very obvious really. You’re linked to it, somehow. The first one to ever use it. To overuse it actually,” she sniffed. “Like an amateur.”
Tommen spread his arms in an apologetic gesture. “Think what I had to work with,” he said.
“And so you control the Pulse and with it you control the skyscrapers and with them the Skylands. But there’s one thing that doesn’t quite add up. Why would a monster like you, who craves power, who would be willing to murder thousands of people just to create a few dragons, not do so earlier?”
Tommen’s eyes widened. He knew exactly what was coming.
“Because you couldn’t,” Sybil continued, withdrawing the Power Shard from her pocket. It glowed faintly in her hand. “The Pulse-Masters designed this to disrupt the Pulse, to stop you using it. That’s why it was in the Security Library. It’s not designed to stop the Wyverns. The Hall does not even know about them. Its real purpose is you, Tommen. It exists to stop you. And when Elijah took it… tell me, when did you turn the skyscrapers into dragons? How long did you wait?”
Tommen stared at her, his eyes wide. Then he smiled.
“Very clever,” he said, staring at her, his blue eyes frighteningly piercing. “But you miss one very important fact.”
“And what’s that?”
“The why, Sybil! The why!”Tommen declared. “Think about it, Sybil. I know you’re clever. You’ve figured it out this far. The shard has to be kept in the same room as me in order to work. You know that much. This whole building is made of stone to stop me controlling it. But you’ve missed the point. Why didn’t I just disconnect it years ago? Why did I let it keep me prisoner?”
“You can’t come near it,” stuttered Sybil, her stomach twisting. She took a deep breath, trying to keep control of her emotions. He would not intimidate her. “It distorts the Pulse,” she continued. “You practically are the Pulse. You couldn’t step within five feet of it even if you wanted to. In fact…” she took a step forward but Tommen just stared at her, his eyebrows raised slightly. Sybil stared at the power shard in her hand, her throat tightening as panic seized her.
“You are so much less than I thought Student,” Tommen said. “So much less…”
“I don’t think you are in any position to be judging me,” answered Sybil, her words filled with false bravado.
“Think Student!” shouted Tommen. “I’ve been trapped here for over a hundred years! You think I couldn’t have broken out of here if I’d wanted to? You think these pathetic ‘Masters’ could have bested me? I’ve done it to keep us safe! To keep us all safe!”
Sybil’s eyes narrowed. “That’s enough talking Tommen,” she said, stepping forward. “You’ve caught enough people in your lies. I will not be next.”
Sybil listened for the beat of the Pulse. She still had Sam’s sword at her belt, but she felt this was far more fitting. To kill him with the same power he’d used to kill almost everyone she’d ever known. To kill him with a power that he should be master of. She let the beat grow in her mind, let it become a thundering cascade of raw force, and brought it down hard. Tommen looked up as the Pulse fell on him. And then Sybil saw him smile. The Pulse shattered around him.
He stood up suddenly and his body seemed to explode outwards, radiating energy. The Pulse exploded in sound, at every possible pitch, at every possible rhythm it sounded, blaring into her ears. And through it all Tommen’s voice came.
“You were so close, Student!” he roared. “But you misunderstood. You believed I did not turn the skyscrapers because I was trapped. You were partly right, but I could not have turned them anyway. I’ve always had a link to the Pulse, it’s how I controlled the Hall for years. But the link was not so strong as to create dragons. The Seer changed that however.”
He struck out.
Sybil felt the blow before she even noticed the change in the Pulse. It hit her in the stomach, sending her flying back across the room. She skidded back on the floor and rolled to her feet breathing heavily. She was winded, but she ignored the feeling. If she hesitated now, she would die. Her mind whirred furiously. He could still control the Pulse, but at least he couldn’t control her Pulse now that she had the power shard. That was something anyway. In the distance, she heard the beat change slightly and instinct drove her to the floor. She felt the Pulse cut above her, slashing the marble wall behind her. Stone chips rained down and she covered her face, listening for the beat. Dust obscured the air and Sybil moved to her left, circling Tommen and using the dust as cover.
His next attack went wide and Sybil took the opening, throwing the Pulse at him in as wide an arc as she could manage. The wall exploded in front of her, a giant map tearing in half. But Tommen was not there. Sybil spun around just as a ball of fire came roaring at her head. She threw up the Pulse in front of her and the flames exploded atop her rudimentary shield, scorching her hands. She screamed in pain, clutching her seared skin.
“I expected so much better…” Tommen whispered.
The dust settled and he was there, standing just two feet away from her. Sybil’s eyes bulged, staring at the power shard in her hand in disbelief.
“Oh it still hurts,” smiled Tommen, reading her thoughts. “But you know, I’ve always believed that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
He hurled another fireball at her and Sybil dived to the floor, barely avoiding the torrent. She rose to her feet, striking back instinctively. Tommen parried her attack like it was nothing. Fear engulfed Sybil. But it is only when you are truly terrified, when you know that your wits are the only thing that stand between you and death, that you find out what you are truly capable of. Sybil had an idea. She listened for the beat of the Pulse and threw it wide, shattering three of the room’s stone pillars in an instant. Above her the ceiling creaked. Tommen seemed to realise what she was doing and his attacks increased in intensity. Tornados of fire flew from him, spinning across the room at her from all angles. Sybil dived across the floor and focused all her energy on the last pillar. With a scream, she shattered it. Above her the ceiling groaned and then began to collapse, its wooden vaults splintering and spinning downwards. Sybil dived left, away from the dome. In front of her, Tommen stared at the collapsing ceiling, his eyes wide, unable to believe what was happening. Within moments he was buried under ten feet of rock and wood. Sybil fell back on a crumbling pile of debris, breathing heavily. She was aching all over and her scorched hand was in more pain than she could have ever imagined possible. She lifted it to her face, feeling the pink skin tenderly. She didn’t even have the energy to heal it. She stared up at the night sky above her. It was finally over.
But then, from within the stone, from underneath the pile of plaster and timber, came the sound of laughter. Sybil scrambled to her feet, her eyes widening. What did it take to kill this guy?
“I told you Student,” a voice echoed from within the debris. “Whatever doesn’t kill you, only makes you stronger!”
The remains of the dome exploded outwards, sending bits of timber and stone flying. Sybil covered her face, wincing as it cut her skin.
“The Pulse almost killed me!” roared Tommen. “But it made me stronger! The timeline consumed me, but it just allowed me more power! I am connected to it all now Student! I rule this world!”
Suddenly, from above them, there was a loud, soul-shaking screech. The sound took Sybil’s breath away, paralysing her heart. She had heard that sound before. She looked up as a dragon descended. Everything seemed to move in slow motion. The room was covered in dust and debris. Splintered beams of wood littered it, sticking out of piles of plaster and rock. Motes of dust floated in the air. Sybil’s every muscle felt exhausted, her skin was burned and her mind itself seemed spent. In the back of it the Pulse had fallen to a low, steady drip. In front of her the dragon loomed, its huge, grey-green body consuming the whole room. Its eyes were black and empty. The top of its throat bulged outwards. It breathed in and its skin contracted, sucking air in with a shriek. Sybil staggered to her feet and stared defiantly at the dragon, very aware that she was about to be burned to a crisp. But at this point she couldn’t have moved even if she’d wanted to. The dragon breathed out and the flames came. Sybil closed her eyes and suddenly she was in the air, the claws of Xanthius suspending her by her own grey uniform. She watched the dragon recede below her and suddenly found new energy. This wasn’t over yet.
Sybil tilted her body to her right and began swinging lightly to either side, slowly at first but then building up speed. Xanthius seemed to realise what she was doing because he began swinging her too until, finally, Sybil swung out in a broad arc before twisting and scrambling atop the Wyvern. She’d forgotten how slippery the scales were and she scrambled desperately for purchase atop its back. She guessed she hit something sensitive because Xanthius screeched in protest below her.
“Sorry!” Sybil shouted and then took a last firm grip, wrapping her hands around his neck. She didn’t try to steer, she left that to Xanthius; she had enough on her plate. Below them, the dragon surged onto its hind legs, its massive body dwarfing them. But for Sybil and Xanthius, that was an advantage. In such an enclosed space, it couldn’t take to the air and, together, they flew around the dragon, easily dodging its clumsy bursts of fire even while Sybil sent her own to scorch its skin. The dragon roared in frustration, sending fire raining down everywhere. Below them Tommen cursed, taking cover as the walls began to collapse around them. That gave Sybil another idea.
“Dive low!” she shouted to Xanthius. The Wyvern responded like it could read her thoughts and soared down towards Tommen. Their esteemed leader threw the Pulse at them but Sybil disrupted the beat easily, causing it to shatter around them. Behind them, the dragon threw fire down. Tommen swore and dived right, narrowly avoiding the flames. Sybil and Xanthius flew up, circling the dragon and throwing more fire at it, the beat of the Pulse quickening to an inferno inside Sybil’s mind. The dragon screamed in frustration and redoubled its efforts, desperately trying to burn them. And Xanthius flew low, flying in front of Tommen, each burst of dragon fire coming closer to consuming him. Then the dragon collapsed. Suddenly, its huge form fell apart, piece by piece, great chunks of it turning into slabs of Orock. The rock rained down and Xanthius flew desperately between the showering missiles, trying to avoid them. Then a piece slapped him on the head, its great weight seeming to ooze on top of him for a second before plummeting down. Xanthius dropped with it. Sybil dived to the floor and rolled up, sparing only a glance for the fallen Wyvern. He’d be fine; they were immortal anyway.
All around her, bits of the dragon continued to rain down, but they didn’t fall naturally. They were aiming for her. A familiar fear paralysed Sybil’s heart but she forced it down. She dived to the side as a particularly huge chunk span towards her. It smashed through the wall behind her, revealing a crowd of Pulse-Masters and Guardians, watching the fight. Sybil didn’t know whose side they were on. Fear shone in their eyes. She was pretty sure they didn’t know whose side they were on either. Her gaze was snatched away as another chunk of Orock roared towards her. She slapped it away with the Pulse. Suddenly, the Orock seemed to stop moving. Each piece hung in the air for a second, as if frozen in time. Then they began spinning, forming a huge tempest, a hurricane, and Sybil was at its centre. Across the room Tommen stood, his piercing blue eyes alight with pleasure inside his withered skin. The Orock struck, slashing at Sybil from all angles. And suddenly Sybil understood what she had to do. She unsheathed her sword and discarded the Pulse. She was defenceless as the Orock pummelled her. It slammed into her body, breaking at least one rib. It tore at her skin, ripping apart the burned flesh. But Sybil was a Student. She did not feel emotions. She did not feel pain. Sword in hand she ran at Tommen. His eyes widened and he barely had a chance to reach for his own as she reached him. His concentration broke and the Orock fell to the ground with a crash. Their swords clashed against one another, the sound resonating outwards. Sybil was a Student. She could do this. She [_would _]do this. She screamed as she slammed her sword down on Tommen with more strength and ferocity than she’d ever thought possible. She didn’t discard her emotions now. She used them. All the anger, all the rage she felt for this man who had manipulated and betrayed and murdered her people… she fed it into her blade. And the sword struck down. Tommen parried it desperately, sweeping his own blade down to try and catch her legs. Sybil matched it easily and stabbed her own towards his chest. Tommen just brought his blade up to stop it and the metal scratched him. His withered face contorted in anger, an inch from hers. With a last scream, Sybil pushed his sword away, her own blade sending it flying across the room. It clattered onto the floor, the sound echoing across the air. Tommen stared at her in horror.
“Please,” he begged. “You have no idea what will happen if the Bridge is allowed to return.”
The Bridge… Those words… When Elijah had attacked Tommen all those weeks ago. He had screamed then, he had prophesied.
Sybil stared at Tommen. ‘[_The Bridge will open…’ _]The words echoed in her mind. But they were a whisper, a shadow compared to her rage.
She looked him in the eyes and swung her sword. Blood erupted from his neck and his head fell to the ground. His body collapsed, dark, ruby blood pumping everywhere. Sybil reached down and picked up his head by the hair. The eyes were still open, that same piercing blue staring in fear at her.
“Get stronger then,” she said and threw the head across the room.
Elijah walked through the desert, at last at peace. Overhead, the sun beat down but he did not feel it. Behind him, the mountain receded into the distance, but he did not look back. In the distance, the walled city of Ekriam stood, smoke rising from the areas still at war. Elijah knew what he had to do. In the back of his mind, the Voice of Time echoed, its message clear. Peace was not something that happened after everyone became tired of fighting. Peace was something that had to be built, that had to be crafted. And the first step in its construction was to create a level playing field.
He reached the Temple within an hour, encountering no resistance along the way. Gradually, Ekriam was coming under the Future Storm’s control. That was good, it was important that he wasn’t interrupted. He stepped inside the huge, square building, its cool shade embracing him. He turned right and began climbing up the stone steps. He understood its function now, he understood the symbol at its entrance. Slowly, all the pieces were coming together.
“Elijah?” he turned to see Yvonne staring at him with Solomon flanking her.
“You look awful,” said Solomon, his usual subtle self. “Where have you been?”
“I met the Voice of Time,” answered Elijah, not stopping his ascent of the stairs. They both hurried after him.
“And?” Yvonne asked.
“It showed me how to put the past behind me,” answered Elijah. “It showed me what I need to do.” He kept walking up the stairs, noticing how the dragon’s fire hadn’t left even a mark on the stone behind the Temple’s cedar walls.
“Where are you going?” asked Yvonne.
Elijah stopped and turned. “I am going to make the Sky fall,” he said.
He had thought that the drama of the statement may have stopped Yvonne asking more questions, but he should have known better.
“And how are you going to do that?” she asked, following him up the endless flights of stairs.
Elijah didn’t answer for a second, allowing his thoughts to come together. The steps were making his legs ache and when he responded, he didn’t want to snap at her. That would just make him look crazy. In his head, what the Voice had told him made sense. Out loud, he was afraid it would sound deranged.
“There are three gifts,” said Elijah. “Ash obviously had the gift of wind, what with all her tornadoes, and you and your never-ending pot of grain have the gift of earth. Solomon I assume has the gift of knowledge. That’s how he knows I’m your chosen one.”
“Yes,” interrupted Solomon. “And you as the Aontaithe are to have all three.”
Elijah shook his head. “That’s not what the symbol means. There are only three points on the diamond, one for each gift. But the fourth point leads out into a circle.” He stopped and looked back at Solomon, staring into his hazel eyes. “What would happen if you manipulated the timeline and twisted a moment of time into a circle?”
The old Seer looked back at him, unblinking. “You die,” he said flatly.
Not the answer Elijah had been hoping for. “Good guess, but no,” he answered. “What happens is you make the Sky fall.” He continued walking up the stairs. They’d climbed four flights already and he was beginning to feel out of breath. But he knew he had to reach the top. He had to be close to the Skylands when this happened.
“Do you think you’re the first person to have thought of this?” shouted Solomon, following him. “Dozens of Seers have died trying it! It’s not safe, looping time back on itself, there’s too much power there!”
“The Voice told me that is what I must do. I know the risks. Nothing ever worthwhile is without risk.”
He kept climbing the stairs. He knew this was right. He could feel it in his gut. The temperature dropped as he passed each step. A chill wind bit around his shoulders, battling against the adrenaline soaring through his blood.
“Don’t do this Elijah,” Solomon protested. “Your life isn’t yours to throw away. You have to lead us, you have to help us defeat the Skylanders!”
Elijah stopped and turned, looking Solomon right in the eye. “Where in the Prophecy of Origin does it say I’m to defeat the Skylanders? Everyone always thinks that if the Sky falls then their grip on power must fall with it. But that’s not why I’m here. I’m not here to destroy them, I’m here to save the Wyverns and to bring peace. And the only way for that to happen is for those floating islands to come down.”
“This is ridiculous,” snorted Solomon.
“He is the Aontaithe,” disagreed Yvonne. “He has spoken with the Voice. We must have faith in him.”
Solomon continued to mutter angrily but he valued Yvonne’s opinion too much to try and stop him. That was good, he needed them on his side. At last Elijah reached the top. The roof was flat and stretched the length and width of the Temple. There were no walls at any of the edges. The drop was sheer and vertical. Above him, the Island of Damon towered and to his west was the Island of Tommen. Sybil’s Island. He hoped she was safe. He hoped this didn’t kill her. He hoped against hope that the Voice was right.
Five Hours Earlier
Sybil leaned back against one of the Drum’s scorched marble walls and stared at the clustered group of Pulse-Masters, Students and former Guardians. She wasn’t sure what she’d expected. To be arrested maybe or to be attacked. She hadn’t expected this silence. It just stretched on, becoming thinner and more fragile with every passing second. Sybil stared at the group and the group stared at Sybil. Above them, dawn began to break across the sky, setting it aflame. A cold morning breeze wound its way through the room’s broken ceiling and across to them. Finally, Master Yuki stepped out from the group and crossed the rubble strewn floor.
“Look at me, Sybil,” she commanded.
Sybil focused on her pale, angular face. It seemed to be blurry. Her gaze drifted slightly before she snapped it forcefully back into place.
“I thought so,” murmured Master Yuki. A faint tapping sounded in her ears as Master Yuki began working on her burns. The beat was soft and so quick she could barely make out the rhythm. She felt her skin tingle as it reached under it, slowly putting it back together.
“Thank you,” she whispered, her throat dry and ragged.
“If my Raisers are safe, it is you I have to thank,” answered Master Yuki, her voice tense as she concentrated on the healing.
Sybil didn’t reply. She’d guessed that Tommen had found some way to pacify the Pulse-Masters. They would not have been fooled by his lies. Master Yuki stared at Sybil, as if willing her to speak, yet somehow avoiding her eyes. She was ashamed, Sybil realised. She should be. Such an attachment to a Raiser after they had completed their function was unbecoming. But Sybil kept her peace. Master Yuki seemed to be her only friend at the moment and she needed one of those now.
Slowly, Sybil felt her wounds begin to heal. Charred skin began to fall away from her like ash. The sensation was warming and unlike her rudimentary efforts, made her feel energised, rather than tired. In front of her, the crowd had begun muttering angrily.
“Do they know about Tommen?” she asked the Pulse-Master.
Master Yuki nodded. “They have been informed.”
From the back of the crowd, Sybil began to see movement as a lone figure pushed his way forward. Breaking free from the group, Sam ran to them, relief painted across his features. He didn’t spare a glance for Tommen’s corpse. Sybil was strangely grateful to him for that. He skidded to a halt in front of them, deciding at the last minute that a hug was not the way to go.
“So you were OK then,” he muttered gruffly. Sybil smiled at that.
“Yeah, it wasn’t a problem,” she replied.
Sam hesitated then, his face strained with indecision.
“What is it Sam?” Sybil asked, suddenly urgent, her blood pumping from Master Yuki’s healing.
“It’s Svan,” answered Sam. “Reports are flooding in that the dragons all collapsed. Their army is approaching the Drum.”
“Great,” muttered Sybil. Dawn had just broken and it was already looking like today was going to be just as much fun as yesterday. She levered herself off the wall. Master Yuki eyed her warily. “You’ll need a little rest if you want to avoid the scars,” she said.
Sybil just shrugged. “They’ll remind me to be more careful next time. Now, where’s that big angry army going to be?”
The crowd had graduated to shouting by the time they reached the entrance of the Drum. Something about destroying the only giant dragons protecting them from the wrath of Svan, but Sybil wasn’t really listening. To her left walked Master Yuki and to her right, Sam. In her right hand, she held Tommen’s head by his hair. His blood dripped on the floor as they walked. Behind her, a group of Pulse-Masters trailed closely. Sybil guessed they were on her side too, but at the moment she only trusted the two people beside her. When they reached the entrance, Svan’s army was neatly assembled on the battlefield, their Wyverns standing beside them.
“Surrender now and you will be given a fair trial!” their commander shouted out. Sybil wasn’t so sure about that ‘fair’ part, but she didn’t see much other choice. At least it wasn’t ‘surrender now so we can massacre you more efficiently’. She stepped out from between Sam and Master Yuki and addressed the commander. He was old enough and had tinges of grey in his otherwise black hair. His face was rough and weathered and his eyes looked like he was sick of this whole business and just wanted to go home. The feeling was mutual. She held up Tommen’s head and waved it in his general direction.
“I give you the only traitor here!” she shouted. “It was he who created the dragons and lied to our people. It was he that propagated this dispute and who provoked the Earthlands into war! It was he who-”
Her speech was cut short by the sight of thousands of Wyverns. It was a shame really, it was a good speech. Behind her there was a collective gasp. Across the Island, she saw them come, their crystal bodies aflame in the morning sun. Thousands and thousands of them. Just like before, when she had first met Tommen. Except now, they were not aiming for the base of the Island. Now they were aiming for them.
“I’m guessing they’re not with you?” she asked the commander. He stared back at her, his calm composure broken.
“OK, new deal,” said Sybil. “You forget about these trials and any sort of revenge and we’ll give you refuge in the Drum.” The commander looked sickened. Behind him, the Wyvern’s flew closer, their crystal forms becoming ever more distinct. With the sun shining through them, they looked like a shower of meteorites. Meteorites aimed right at them.
“Time’s running out commander,” announced Sybil impatiently. “Justice or your life, what’s it going to be? Here, I’ll even give you this to sweeten the deal.” She tossed Tommen’s bloody head through the air. The commander caught it and recoiled, his face screwing up in revulsion.
He took one last look at the oncoming Wyverns. “We have an agreement,” he replied, his voice stiff.
Sybil didn’t waste time thanking him. “Right, everyone inside!” she shouted. There were no angry mutters now. Nobody wanted to be outside when those Wyverns came.
‘They are treacherous creatures,’ the thought came to her distantly, as if from another age. She almost smiled at it. She looked behind her and noticed that most of the crowd were already forcing their way back into the Drum. By the looks of it, they’d started moving long before any deal had been made. In front of her, the commander ordered his forces to follow and they surged forward, eyes on the sky. Sybil stepped aside and watched them go. For better or for worse, she led the Drum now, at least until the Pulse-Masters realised that a Student was ordering them about. A leader should always be the last to retreat. Not that the Drum was going to be much shelter. Looking at it now, she realised that it was close to falling apart. The Wyverns were going to tear them to pieces. Then her feet left the ground. She screamed in shock and panic as the Wyvern’s claws took hold of her. She struggled desperately as they lifted her higher and higher into the air, shaking her body this way and that. Below her the Island seemed to disappear as the Wyvern’s strong wings bore her upwards. She stopped struggling, panic filling her. There was only one way out of this. One hateful and detestable way. She stretched her neck to stare at the Wyvern’s crystal head. She listened for the beat of the Pulse and saw the spark, just beside its nose, and directed it into its mind. Her vision suddenly split in two, its memories flowing by. And in those memories she saw herself, she saw Elijah and she saw Solomon.
“Xanthius?” she gasped, leaving the Wyvern’s mind instantly. The Wyvern let out a cry as if to say yes. Sybil swung up on to his back and Xanthius didn’t object. It was far easier this time, when she wasn’t busy fighting someone to the death. She wrapped her arms around the Wyvern’s crystal neck and clung to him for dear life. She had no idea where she was going, but it had better be important.
Elijah sat on the Temple’s stone roof. He didn’t have to, but this felt like the kind of thing he didn’t want to be doing standing up. He crossed his legs and closed his eyes. In the back of his mind, the words of the Voice echoed.
“From the Temple, look to the Skylands and unto you I shall reveal the wondrous depths of infinity.”
Elijah raised his gaze upwards and stared at the vast floating islands that towered above him. On the edge of his vision, the timeline flickered insistently, an endless sea of bright flickering colours. He turned his mind towards it and suddenly, the Skylands moved closer. Massive grey obelisks towered before his eyes surrounded by dust and dirt, the power of the first Wyverns making a mockery of gravity’s strength. Around them, seams of iron ore shone in the sunlight, flowing through each Island like a silver river. And through it all, a single beautiful strand of the timeline ran, ribbon thin and glittering with an internal light that constantly refracted off itself, creating a rainbow of colours. It surged and flowed in the rock, ever moving, always feeding back on itself, one glorious stream of light. He reached out with his mind and touched it. The effect was instantaneous. His body slumped forward and he collapsed on the ground. His vision began to retreat, as if running backwards down a tunnel. He reached the end of it and suddenly he found himself in a land of nothing but darkness and light. He hung in the darkness and was a part of it. He couldn’t smell anything, he couldn’t hear anything, but everywhere around him the timeline flowed with light. Flashes of faces and people, of buildings and statues erupted from the strands, painting a strange landscape of luminescent, swirling colours. Without touching them, he knew they would respond to him. They would move wherever he told them. With this power he could change anything he wanted.
‘Yeah, if you want to destroy the world,’ a voice nagged at him. His conscience. Annoying thing that, but looking at the timeline now, seeing it spread before him like this, he could understand how the Seers had gone so far. He could understand how the War on Time had become so dangerous. To be able to craft reality itself… it was a temptation almost beyond resisting. He looked out across the flickering lights. They formed a rainbow of colours, their images moving too fast for Elijah to recognise what happened in them. But there was one that was different. It stood out because its images didn’t move. It was still, but yet Elijah couldn’t see it. It was covered, as if by a fog, something so fragile and insubstantial that he only had to touch it to make it dissipate. And so he did. And the timeline took hold of him. He felt his soul warp and twist and he groaned in pain, although no sound came out. He felt pulled by the timeline, its unmoving light embracing his darkness. His shapeless, black body hung in the darkness for a second and then he was gone.
“Elijah!” his mother called. “Elijah come back here!”
Elijah laughed and ran between her legs, making for the door. His mother scooped him up with both arms and held her in front of him, appraising him critically.
“You can’t think you can get away from me that easily,” she said, her face creasing with a very serious frown.
Elijah giggled and leaned in to her. He felt so safe. His mother held him and smiled. Opposite her, his father stood, cradling his baby sister.
“You’re getting a bit too big for this now,” his mother said, holding him at arm’s length again. “You’re too heavy for me.”
She set him down on the floor and looked at him sternly. Her eyes were an emerald green and her hair was as black as midnight. She wore a white dress, patterned with flowers. Then she smiled at him, her expression lighting up the whole room.
“You’re to stay with your father until I’m back,” she said, one finger on his nose to underscore the seriousness of the statement. “Don’t go wandering off on him.”
“Where are you going?” Elijah asked.
“To the market, but then I’ll be straight home to you.”
But there was something strange about the way she said it, a certain twist to her lips and weight to her words. And with the certainty only a child can have, Elijah knew she was lying. It was wrong. His mother never lied to him. He didn’t know how to respond to this strange new phenomenon so he said, “Okay” and walked over to his father.
“Back before you know it,” smiled his mother and blew Greg a kiss.
“Don’t be gone long Delilah,” replied Elijah’s father. “These are dangerous times.”
His mother opened the door and slipped out without another word. Elijah looked up at Greg and smiled earnestly. “What’ll we do now Daddy?” he asked.
“Want to help me put Truth to bed?” he asked. It wasn’t really a question, so Elijah didn’t reply and followed his father into his and Truth’s bedroom. In one corner stood a cot which, to Elijah, looked far too big for such a small baby.
“Can’t we play a game Daddy?” Elijah asked, tugging forlornly at his father’s leg. His father was a sucker for a bit of forlorn tugging.
“In a minute,” Greg said. He laid Truth down and tucked her in and after what felt like the longest time possible, they went back out into the living room.
“What game do you want to play?” asked his father.
“Chasing!” burbled Elijah.
“We can’t play chasing indoors Elijah,” replied Greg.
This stumped five year old Elijah and so he gave the problem its due consideration. “What about hide and seek?” he asked.
“OK,” replied Greg. “But you have to stay inside the house.”
Elijah agreed instantly, bobbing his head up and down like a demented chicken. But in his head, he was already wondering: why can’t I go outside? I bet there’s something really fun outside. And, mummy went outside but she wouldn’t tell me why. Why didn’t she tell me why?
“OK, I’ll stay here, you go hide,” said Greg.
“No…” replied Elijah, shaking his head and taking Greg’s hand. “All the good hiding places are in here. You go into you and mummy’s bedroom and count there. With your eyes closed. And facing the wall.”
Greg surveyed the bare room, with its two chairs and plain wooden table and shrugged. He allowed himself to be led by the hand and pointed towards the far wall of his bedroom.
“You stay here and don’t peak!” commanded Elijah, enjoying bossing his dad about.
“Thirty, twenty-nine, twenty-eight, twenty-seven…”
Elijah ran out of the room laughing with glee. He went to his room first and hid under Truth’s cot, but that was too obvious. Then he went to the sitting room and tried to squeeze under the old armchair, as he had when he was a baby. But he wouldn’t fit. Then the door caught his eye and he walked up to it. Beside it was a window and Elijah jumped up, trying to see what was so much fun outside.
“Ten, nine, eight,” came the steady voice of his dad from the other room. Elijah jumped and clung onto the window ledge. Outside, his mother walked by, holding a basket. Inside the basket was a loaf of bread and some fruit and… but then Elijah’s arms gave out and he fell.
“Five, four, three…”
Elijah opened the door to surprise his mum, but even as he did so, he saw her walk straight past the house. Elijah walked out the door and closed it behind him.
“Ready or not here I come!” said his dad in a mock stage whisper. But Elijah had already forgotten about the game. He wanted to know why his mum wasn’t coming home. He glanced around to make sure no one was watching and then he began to walk after her.
Sybil dismounted Xanthius and stood on the roof of the temple. Solomon stood on the other side of the roof, staring moodily into the distance. Just five feet away, Yvonne kneeled beside Elijah who was asleep and drooling onto the stone roof. Nice.
“This is what was so important?” she demanded of Xanthius.
“Hush, girl and get over here.” commanded Yvonne, rising to her feet. Sybil forced down her irritation and walked towards her. As she got closer, she noticed that Elijah wasn’t sleeping. His eyes were open. This didn’t look good.
“What’s he doing?” she asked Yvonne.
“He’s trying to create an infinity loop to make your Islands fall out of the sky,” answered Yvonne.
An intense feeling of shock and betrayal suddenly overpowered Sybil. “I didn’t think he’d ever really be able to do it,” she said, her throat tight. She stepped back from the Seer. Why had she ever let herself trust them? Why had she ever let her guard down?
“I need you to help,” said Yvonne, staring at her intensely. “He will be tested. Time does not like to be told what to do. It shall try to divert him from the correct course.”
“You’re lucky I don’t divert him off the side of this roof,” growled Sybil.
“If you don’t help me, everyone on your Islands will die,” replied Yvonne, her gaze like ice. “The Wyverns are on every Island by now. They will kill every one of you for the pain you have inflicted on them and your Pulse-Masters are far too weakened to stop them.”
“You brought me here to tell me this?” asked Sybil, rage taking hold of her. She grabbed Yvonne by the collar, readying the Pulse.
Yvonne’s expression didn’t change. “That’s if you’re lucky. If you’re not Elijah will be diverted from his path and the Sky will not fall as it should. It will be another Fall, except instead of just one Island, it’ll be every one of them.”
“You’re not making sense,” growled Sybil. “There’s only one way for things to fall and that’s down!”
Yvonne shook her head. “You’re missing the point, Sybil. Elijah was never chosen just to make the Sky fall. He was chosen to make things right. To bring things back to the way they were. If you help him, he can do that.”
Sybil stared at the old Seer with an intense hatred. All she wanted to do was toss her from the roof of this cursed building. Instead, through gritted teeth, she said one word: “Explain.”
Elijah followed his mother for ten minutes. He wanted to confront her and ask her where she was going but he was afraid she’d be mad at him for leaving the house without permission.She approached a small house on a street which Elijah didn’t know. The house had a green door and wooden shutters which were closed. Elijah walked around the house, trying to find a way inside. Behind it, he saw a garden, with a wooden fence. One of the posts was broken at the bottom and hung lopsidedly from the frame. Elijah struggled under it, imagining that he was a daring explorer. The wood scraped his back, but that just added to the sense of adventure. He ran up the garden. It couldn’t have been more than a dozen feet long but to Elijah it felt like a marathon. He reached the end of the house, gasping for breath and looked around himself furtively. He knew he was doing something wrong and he didn’t want any grown-ups to catch him. The back door to the house was open and Elijah snuck inside. He could hear his mother’s voice and he followed it, stepping as quietly as he could through the bright interior.
“Can we get them out?” she asked.
“It’s too late for them,” another voice answered her. “We have to take everyone we have already and leave this city.”
“We can’t leave anyone behind,” replied his mother. “Either we all go, or none of us do.”
“That’s not safe. I swear, I thought someone was following me earlier. We can’t stay any longer.”
Elijah leaned against a hall wall, listening to the conversation in what he assumed was the sitting room. What was his mum doing? Who were these people? They kept talking, but Elijah wasn’t really listening. He began to think that maybe he should just reveal himself and ask her. He was alone in this strange house and he wanted to be close to someone he knew. Then there was a banging at the door. It was loud and angry. It wasn’t someone asking to be let in, it was someone telling you that they were coming in. Elijah ran down the hall and into the kitchen. He hid around the kitchen corner as the door fell from its hinges with a crash. From inside the sitting room, there was the sound of panic and muffled voices. Elijah turned towards it and saw five people bearing down on him. His eyes widened in terror.
“What’s happening?” he asked.
The nearest face said, “What’s a kid doing here?”
And then his mother was there, her face shocked and her eyes scared.
“Elijah you shouldn’t be here!” she whispered.
“Why didn’t you come home?” asked Elijah lamely.
From the hallway came the sound of heavy footsteps. The remaining four grown-ups rushed past Elijah and into the kitchen but were blocked by the men who had broken down the door. They were Guardians, Elijah realised. His parents had always told him not to go near the Guardians.
Suddenly the small space was filled with shouting and screaming and far too many people. One of them ran at one of the Guardians who withdrew a sword, sweeping it in a wide arc and taking off his arm. Blood fountained up and Elijah screamed and ran into his mother’s arms. His mother held him and backed away from the scene and back into the sitting room. She held Elijah close and whispered into his ear.
“We’re going to play a game of hide and seek, now Elijah,” she said.
“But I’m already playing hide and seek with dad,” wailed Elijah.
“It’s OK,” soothed his mother. “You can play it with me too. I need you to hide under there and you have to promise me, no matter what, that you will be quiet,” Elijah nodded and she fed him under the sofa, squeezing him in tightly. It was dark and dusty and the carpet was thin and rough. From the kitchen came the sound of screaming.
Elijah looked out from under the sofa, staring at his mother’s feet. Gradually, voices drifted towards him.
“You stand accused of harbouring fugitives of justice,” a man’s grunted.
“You call this justice?” asked his mother, her voice angrier than Elijah had ever heard her. Somehow, that scared him more than the swords and the blood and the screams.
“How do you plead?” the man’s voice continued, as if she hadn’t spoken.
“Will it make a difference?” asked his mother, but Elijah knew she wasn’t really asking the question.
“No,” replied the voice and there was the sound of steel scraping on leather. A terrible sense of wrongness suddenly gripped Elijah, an awful awareness dawning on him. He was in a nightmare and there was no way out. The Guardian stepped towards his mother, his footsteps echoing in Elijah’s ears as if they were in a cave. Elijah tried to move out from under the sofa, to stop this man who was going to hurt his mother. But his mum had pushed him in too tightly, he couldn’t move. There was a rushing sound as steel met flesh and his mum moaned in pain and fell to the ground. She landed on her side, one hand extended outwards, towards Elijah. Her blood began to flow across the carpet and stained Elijah’s hands. He screamed then and he kept screaming and screaming until nothing but darkness enveloped him.
Elijah started, falling out of the timeline and looked around himself. He had returned to the black void and his soul shook in the darkness. He could not scream, he could not cry, he had no voice in this place. His soul trembled at the memory of his mother’s death. No, not a memory. It had been so much worse than a memory. He wanted to scream and roar and curse the darkness. The Voice of Time had allowed him to accept the death of his father. It had allowed him to accept the death of his sister. But he couldn’t accept this. This was too much. He didn’t care about equity and peace. He didn’t care about being the Aontaithe. He just wanted to make the Skylands pay. He reached out and he took the strand of the timeline that lay before him. He took it and turned it and twisted it and wrought it into a circle. There was a flash of light and a screech of cosmic proportions and in the pitch black of the void a dark power filled him. He closed his eyes, feeling it chorus through him, bursting through every vein and vessel, becoming a part of who he was, the pain of his mother’s death melding into him. He opened his eyes and above him the Skylands loomed as close as ever before. Throughout it all a single brightly coloured ribbon flowed. Elijah threw the power of infinity at it and the ribbon flexed and blurred, straining against his will. Elijah roared, pulling all his power together and threw it at the single strand of the timeline. He missed. Suddenly, thundering in his ears, was the sound of drums. It struck the power of infinity, bouncing off it and forcing it off-course. It crashed into the side of the Island of Damon, shattering rock and debris that had hung there for over two hundred years. Elijah turned, towards the source of the beat, rage lighting his eyes. Sybil stood before him, her grey uniform splattered with blood, her eyes resolute.
“Don’t do this, Elijah.” she said. But Elijah barely heard her. In his ears, there was a fierce rushing noise, as if all the sands of time were falling.
“Why not?” he asked, grief and pain fighting for their place in his frazzled mind. “They have murdered everyone I love! They deserve to die!”
“You cannot murder an entire nation Elijah! This isn’t why you’re here, this isn’t the man I know!”
“You know nothing about me!” shouted Elijah, tears in his eyes, the power pulsing through his veins, demanding to be released.
“There has been so much death already, Elijah, please!” begged Sybil, her voice pleading in a way Elijah had never expected. “Let’s do things better, together.”
Elijah knew what the right thing to do would be. He knew what the logical thing was. The Voice had sent him here so that he could return the Skylands to the earth peacefully, so that he could make the world whole without another drop of blood. But emotions aren’t rational, they aren’t reasonable. They just are. He didn’t care what was right or what was wrong. He didn’t care about his destiny or the fate of EarthSky. They had killed his mother.
“No,” he said and threw the raw timeline at Sybil.
Sybil had never been the best negotiator but she had not expected Elijah to try and kill her. She dived across the roof, just narrowly avoiding the blast of bright light that shot from him. It caught the side of her sleeve and Sybil watched in horror as it began to turn to dust. She ripped it from her body, leaving her in just her vest. The top of her uniform was dust before it even hit the ground. That put an end to negotiations. A dozen feet away, Elijah’s attention had returned to the Skylands, his face a mess of grief and rage. Sybil was still exhausted after her fight with Tommen but she was not going to let him destroy her home. He was more powerful than her, she knew. But he was emotional, he wasn’t thinking straight. She could stop him. The beat of the Pulse sounded steadily in her mind and she threw it at him. It seemed to slow down as it approached him, the raw power of infinity that leaked from Elijah cushioning the blow. But it was enough to get his attention. He turned from the Skylands, rubbing his head, and fixed his gaze on Sybil.
“Please don’t do this,” she tried again, a small part of her hoping that saying ‘please’ might change his mind. But Elijah was passed reasoning with. His face was haggard, a terrible determination in his eyes.
“The Skylanders must pay for their crimes,” he replied.
“Can’t you hear yourself?” shouted Sybil. “I’m a Skylander! Do you blame me too?”
“All will pay.”
Sybil was ready for the attack, but even so the sheer power behind it almost killed her. She threw herself to her right, flattening herself against the Temple’s roof as a vast flat ray of the timeline cut the air above her like a scythe. Across the roof, she noticed Solomon and Yvonne cowering in the square hole that she assumed must lead down to the rest of the Temple. The roof of the Temple was rough against her hands, the stone unsmoothed in the assumption no one would ever see it. Or ever have to fight for their life atop it. Above her, a steady rain of grit and dirt had begun to fall from the sky, showering Sybil’s bare shoulders. She looked up. The Island of Damon had begun to shake violently, the power of infinity already working its way through rocks that had hung there for hundreds of years. Further away, she could see the other Islands also shaking, Elijah’s power slowly infecting them. Sybil knew that her intervention hadn’t bought her much time. As with the top of her uniform, the strands of the timeline which held the Skylands together would slowly be devoured by the power of infinity. Before her, Elijah breathed heavily, his hands on his knees, destroying the world clearly being a very tiring duty. It was time he took a break. She feinted, sending a beat of the Pulse towards the side of his head. Elijah dodged sluggishly to one side, the new power he wielded allowing him to now hear the Pulse. At the same time, Sybil quickened the beat in her mind, coiling it back into a whip and snapping it out. It struck Elijah in the shoulder, the cushion that surrounded him taking most of the blow, but still forcing him backwards. Which was just where Sybil wanted him. Using all her might she threw the Pulse down in one concentrated burst, as sharp and precise as an arrow head. It fell with the speed and inevitability of a thunderclap. Elijah looked up, sensing it coming, but unable to avoid it. It hit him with the force of a thousand tonnes and he dropped like a rock, falling flat onto the Temple’s roof. Sybil gasped for breath, pulling in great lungful’s of oxygen as fast as she possibly could. Across the roof, Yvonne sprinted towards Elijah’s prone body.
“He’s alive!” she reported.
Sybil shook her head in wonder. That blow would have destroyed a house. Above her, the Island of Damon trembled in anticipation, huge clumps of earth and stone starting to peel away from it and crash into the desert below. She could feel the Pulse screeching in protest as Elijah’s power slowly consumed it. She was so tired, but Sybil knew that there was still one thing she had to do. She reached for the Pulse, listening to its panicked, erratic beat as the power of infinity slowly unravelled it. She reached for it, but she didn’t embrace it, she didn’t make it a part of her. No, she knew exactly where the Pulse belonged, where it had always belonged. She closed her eyes, sensing the beat as she had done since she was a child and moving it, directing it and guiding it back towards the Wyverns. Elijah’s power had cut the bonds that tied the Pulse to her Islands and she couldn’t change that. The Skylands would never be the same again, she knew. But that didn’t mean anyone had to die. In her mind’s eye, the beat of the Pulse flowed across the world, a brilliant ray of light that flooded the Skylands. And she flowed with it, watching and listening as it returned to the Wyverns, the slow beat of drums sounding everywhere. It required little guidance, it knew where it belonged. And all across the Islands the Wyverns began to change, consumed by a light brighter than any that had ever shone from them before.
And without the Pulse to hold it aloft, her Islands began to fall. Huge plains of land slowly drifted down into the desert and across the Burninglands. But they fell slowly, calmly and not with the terrible vengeance Elijah had sought to exact. Instead, they moved smoothly downwards, as if they were pieces in a child’s puzzle, returning to where everything had first started. Their descent cast a shadow over the Temple and over all the world. Sybil could feel them move, could feel the earth sigh with relief as they returned. As she flowed over them, she felt more at one with the Pulse than she ever had before.
An age later, Sybil opened her eyes and she knew that the Pulse was gone and her Islands were earthbound. She had destroyed everything about her home that set it apart in the world and in doing so she had saved it. She wasn’t sure whether to feel elated or depressed. She looked up to see Xanthius standing there, naked. Not the sight she had been expecting. He kneeled down in front of her, holding her gaze.
“Thank you,” he said solemnly.
“Anytime,” stammered Sybil, trying desperately to look anywhere but down. Across the roof, she heard Elijah groan as consciousness retook him. Sybil wondered if he was sorry, or angry or maybe a little bit of both. But the one thing she hadn’t expected were these words:
“The Bridge is open.”
An albatross is a beautiful bird. It’s huge and white, with black tipped wings and can cover great distances very quickly. The day the Sky fell there was one particular albatross who was flying around the Island of Damon. The albatross studied the falling Island in fascination, watching as the huge mass of earth and stone began to descend to the Burninglands below it. The albatross thought that it was about time. In its opinion, when things such as earth and stone went up into the air they invariably always had to come down. It had clearly just taken these islands a bit longer to do so.
As the Island fell, the albatross rose until it was level with it, watching the great beasts of the air gradually transform. But it did not linger long, for it knew such beasts had never played well with the other birds and it did not trust them to be any better after their transformation. It flew up, over the top of the Island, across the Burninglands, until it reached the Sea of Passing. A storm was brewing on the sea, but that did not concern the albatross. It was a bird of storms; it lived for them. It flew over the rough seas, hunting for prey, when it noticed a small fishing boat, battling amongst the waves.
The albatross descended to the boat where a man and what looked like a giant hunk of meat sat. The meat smelled strange and had a strange hook embedded inside it, but the albatross was hungry and so decided to take its chances. A strange guttural sound emanated from the meat. The albatross backed away, startled. The man did not notice. He stood on the opposite side of the boat, distracted by the business of the Sky falling. He wore loose, leather clothes and a short beard. Strange images were scattered across his body and half of his left ear was cut out. His eyes narrowed as he looked out across the waves, trying to make out the falling Islands.
As they fell, he pulled himself across to the other end of the boat and the albatross stepped out of his way, hopping onto the top of the rudder. The man lifted the meat up and it grunted unintelligibly at the contact. He dragged it over to the front of the ship, facing the descending islands.
“Do you see that, Jasmine?” he asked. “You should be grateful I left you your eyes so you can witness such a historic occasion. Those islands are falling back down. Soon they will cover the Burninglands and we will be able to return there, we will finally see our debt paid.”
The meat known as Jasmine just groaned, the sound like that of a beached whale. The albatross eyed her with curiosity. He had never seen a human which lacked so many of its parts.
“Yes, I know you will not be there to see it,” sighed the man. “It will be some time before we can get everyone together and probably some more time before we are ready to make the journey. But look, there in the distance,” he shifted the human up, angling its torso so its head could see the closest island. “The peninsula that the Seers found for us to land at, it’s still there. Crossing the Sea of Passing will be much safer now. If your children are strong then, I will take them; they will earn much glory fighting for us.”
The meat didn’t reply, but a strange water began to flow from her eyes. The albatross cocked his head, staring at the liquid. He had thought saltwater came only from the sea.
So Ends Book 1 of the Legend of EarthSky.
If you’ve got this far, you’ve finished this book and you know that there is a sequel on the way. That sequel is, however, wholly dependent on you. Sadly, I can’t keep writing books unless they’re selling. If you would like to find out what happens next to Elijah or Sybil there are two things you can do:
Reviews are the only thing separating this book from every other book on the market (and that’s a lot of books). If you take two minutes to write a kind review, it would mean the world to me.
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Lastly, thank you very much for giving my writing a shot and I hope you will read whatever else my addled mind comes up with.
THERE IS A STORM COMING. They forced Elijah to flee his home. They exposed him as a Seer and enslaved his sister. To rescue her, Elijah must travel to the one place he was always taught to fear: the floating islands of the Skylands. But he is hunted by Sybil, a devoted Skylander who has vowed to Silence all Seers for the power that they wield. For Elijah is destined to do more than save his sister. He is destined to make the Sky fall. But as Elijah and Sybil clash, an evil power schemes in the very heart of the Skylands. Unbeknownst to them, he weaves their every step to his will. And as the fate of the world hangs in the balance, the Voice of Time whispers amongst the desert sands. There is a storm coming.