“Who’s surprised this turned out to be a trap? Not me,” Vesna groans.
Carrying the unconscious Kemp between them, Vesna and Vico stare at the figure blocking their path. Finally reaching the top of the stairs and walking out into the main hallway of the house, the two were stopped by the man with rotting teeth, Asco.
“I like feisty women. They’re much more fun to break than the weak ones.” He traces his blade across his captive’s skin. Tal fights against his hold, but he twists her arm tightly. She inhales sharply at the pain.
“Who are you?” Vico stares at the knife at Tal’s throat.
“I’m the one who’ll be taking great pleasure in killing all of you. Elder Vacuda told me to be creative.” He wraps his free arm around Tal’s throat and aims the blade at Vico. “But maybe I’d be inclined to let you go if you abandon your friends. I’m feeling a bit generous.”
“Well, don’t say I didn’t try to be nice.” He takes his knife and plunges it into Tal’s throat.
Vico and Vesna scream in shock and nearly drop Kemp. Tal’s eyes widen and her hands fall to her sides.
“I don’t usually like killing quickly, but I knew your expressions would make it worthwhile. Who’s next? Boy, girl, or sleeping beauty?” Asco laughs and pulls his knife out of Tal’s throat, but the blade is gone. His laughter stops and he stares at the broken weapon in his hand.
Tal takes advantage of his sudden loose grip and spins, kneeing him in the groin. She then grabs his arm and throws him over her shoulder into the wall. He crashes through the wood sending dust and smoke everywhere.
Rubbing her bruised neck, Tal sneers at the hole. “Barely made it before you stuck me, pig.” She turns to the siblings behind her. “You two all right?”
They nod, still in shock. She walks over to them and lifts Kemp’s head. His breathing is even and there’re no visible wounds.
“How did you—?”
“I made a very hard shield quickly. I’m surprised he didn’t feel it or notice his blade break before he did. We lucked out with a stupid one.” She releases Kemp’s head, letting it flop back down. “Where’s Ari?”
“She’s waiting for Vacuda.” Vico glances at the hole where Asco disappeared.
Vesna nods in agreement. “She’s going to kill him.”
“By herself?” Tal eyes the door down leading to the stairs.
“Crofton is with her,” Vico says bluntly. “Where were you?”
She holds up a book. “Found Ari’s notebook. Vacuda seemed very interested in it. He was making a copy for himself.”
“Why would he do that?” Vesna asks.
“Probably so he could find where Ari’s father is. He seems to have a lot of people searching for him.”
A loud crash draws all attention to the hole. As they stare, a large boulder crashes through the house’s wall and slams into Tal. She’s thrown down the hall and both she and the boulder break through the wall, landing outside. Vico and Vesna draw their weapons, struggling to hold them as well as Kemp.
Stepping through the hole, blood dripping from wounds on his back, Asco glares wild-eyed at the siblings. “That fucking bitch! I’ll crush her to dust, but first you three are going to die.”
He raises his arms and the ground shakes beneath them. Through both holes in the house, earth flies in circling them. Pieces of earth gather, hardening into heavy clumps. The earth stops, hovering around the three, waiting for Asco’s signal to crush them.
The earth clumps close in around them, quickly. Their weapons are useless and Vico and Vesna huddle close around Kemp, their eyes closed. They feel the pressure of the earth around them, but not the crushing sensation of death. Opening their eyes, they see the earth encasing them in a dome.
A dome of magic.
“What the hell?” Asco’s voice barely makes it through to them. The earth falls away.
“You sneaky bastard. No one said you had earth magic hidden in your filthy body,” Tal’s voice echoes down the hallway. Turning to the destroyed wall at the end of the hall, everyone sees Tal’s form standing in the opening. Her hand shakes from the strain of her magic. “I don’t like using it from such a distance, but I made it in time.”
Asco yells angrily at her, throwing earth towards her. She easily deflects them with her magic and draws her own weapon. Anger burns in her eyes and she runs towards him.
Realizing he can’t stop her approach, Asco gathers earth around his arm and uses it as a shield as she swings her sword at him. It hits the earth and buries into it, but not enough to hit him. As he smirks at her, she kicks him in the gut, sending him limping back. She swings again and he’s unable to gather more earth. He falls out of her way, her blade missing him by inches.
Scrambling to his feet, he makes a spear out of earth and tries to stab her. She uses her weapon to change its path and head butts him in the face. A sickening crack signifies his breaking nose and he throws a punch at her, but her magic deflects it. Screaming wildly in frustration and pain, he backs away from her.
Vico and Vesna watch with wide eyes. They’ve never seen someone so easily overpower another.
“We just gonna stand here gawking? She’s buying us time to escape,” a weak voice says. Kemp carefully stands, keeping a hand on Vico’s shoulder. “What a thing to wake up to, huh?”
“How long have you been awake?” Vesna pouts.
“Doesn’t matter,” Vico says, “He’s right. We should take advantage of the distraction and get out of here.”
“What about Ari and Crofton?”
The house shakes, wood creaking loudly. “They’ll be fine, but I have a feeling this house isn’t going to last much longer,” Kemp says.
Asco flies in front of them, slamming into another wall. The wood snaps and he falls halfway through the hole. Tal walks to Kemp and hands him Ari’s notebook. “You got somewhere safe for this?”
Taking it, Kemp holds it in front of him before moving as though to put it on an invisible shelf. As he does, the book disappears. “I’ll hang onto it for now.”
“You three wait outside. Once I’m done with the rock thrower we’ll get out of here.” She walks past them, waving her sword in front of her.
The three quickly leave, glancing back at Tal and wondering how Ari and Crofton are faring against Vacuda.
Asco sits up, throwing debris off him angrily. Tal holds the tip of her sword in front of his face and he freezes.
“I recall someone saying they were going to crush me into dust. Ready to try again?”
Yelling, he slaps her sword away, cutting his hand in the process. He leaps to his feet and tries to grab for her throat, but she sends a shield of magic out, causing him to bounce back. He attacks again only to have the same thing happen. On his third attempt he bangs his fists on the magic shield clawing at the unseen obstacle until his nails break off.
“I’ll kill you!”
Tal raises her sword and prepares to run him through, but the ground beneath them lurches and both fall to the ground. “What the hell was that?”
The ground lurches again and the smoke filling the house disappears. A surge of power fills the air and Tal shudders. Asco screams, grabbing his head and the earth rises around him. Tal feels her magic grow and she can’t stop it. Realizing the surge of power is driving her magic wild, Tal sheathes her sword and tries to leave.
A hand grabs her ankle and she falls to the floor. Turning she sees Asco holding her tightly. His eyes are crazed, the earth flying like mad insects around him. He holds his head with his free hand and screams.
She feels her own magic tightening her. Filling her yet also squeezing her. It’s a terrifying feeling and she knows she has to get away or else she’ll die.
Kicking at Asco, she frees herself from his grip and crawls towards the exit of the house. She watches the screaming man behind her try to follow, but the earth buzzing around him moves faster and faster, slamming into him and creating deep wounds.
She turns to the exit and notices the large boulder that slammed into her before whiz overhead. She flattens as much as she can, feeling the pressure as the large object passes over her. She sits up and watches as the boulder slams into Asco, crushing him. His screams stop and his arms fall limp on either side.
Knowing she’ll soon share the same fate if she doesn’t hurry, she clambers to her feet and runs. As she exits the house she feels her magic calm, but when she turns back to the house her eyes widen. Kemp, Vico, and Vesna join her to stare at the unnerving sight before them.
The house is surrounded by a shadow, slowly shrinking and melting the house away. The roof is already gone, the walls slowly following suit.
The only thought in all their minds being: who is responsible?