"Rorik! Breakfast!" Amari shouted down the hallway.
"Be right there, I just have to... dammit!" Amari heard a painful sounding thud coming from the room at the far end of the hall, "Uh, Amari? Can you, uh, help me out?" Amari rolled her eyes and strode down the hallway.
"Morning, John." she called into an open doorway.
"Good morning, Lenny."
"I'm Amari, John. Put your glasses on."
Amari opened a small door at the end of the hall to find Rorik crumpled on the floor next to his bed. She bent down and threw his arm around her shoulder.
"Alright, Rorik, here we go," she said, and hoisted him up. He leaned against her for support and grabbed a pair of makeshift crutches.
"Thanks, Amari," he said. Amari helped him through the door. Lenny stuck his head out from the kitchen.
"What happened? I heard a bang," he said, sipping a cup of coffee.
"Again? You mean he still can't get up by himself?"
"Well, you did stab him with a tree."
"Alright, point taken."
John shuffled out of his room and stretched.
"What's for breakfast?" he asked.
"I made sausages," Lenny answered, nodding toward the kitchen.
"Sausages? Where did you get sausages?"
"Just a minor alchemical conversion. It used to be dirt."
"Well, great. I always wanted to try dirt."
"It's not like I can just get some at the market. Besides, there's virtually no difference. The transmutation was perfect."
John sighed and sat down. "Fine," he said, taking a bite.
"You seem awfully cranky today," Amari said, helping Rorik into a chair, "What's up?" John gave Lenny a sideways glance, and Lenny shook his head discreetly.
"Eh, it's nothing. Just a rough night," John answered nonchalantly. Amari nodded and grabbed a bucket from a cabinet.
"Be back in a bit, I'm going to get some water," she said, and walked out the door. John glanced at Lenny again and gestured to a side room. Lenny coughed.
"Oh, I'm sorry, I must've... ahem... forgotten my vitamins," he said, and stepped into the side room. A moment later, he called, "John, can you help me? I can't find them." John stood up quickly and walked into the room. Shutting the door behind him, he quickly faced Lenny.
"I can't do this anymore, Lenny. That girl more dangerous than a Tenebrie Warrior hyped up on Maka Powder," he whispered.
"I know, John, I get it, but she's still innocent. There's not much we can do for Shifters. For God's sake, John, have a little sympathy for the poor girl," Lenny answered. John walked over to a chair in the corner and sat down.
"Lenny, I can't just sit around and wait for something to happen. We need to do something before anyone gets hurt-" John paused for a moment, as if a thought had just occurred to him.
"You know, Lenny," he said, "We can control it." Lenny shook his head.
"John, if you're suggesting what I think you're suggesting, we can't. Luther's dead, and the only other one who can build one is missing, skulking about in the forest."
"We don't need the Beta," John said, "We just need that boy you left behind." Lenny raised an eyebrow.
"Orion? No. He wouldn't know anything about it."
"He's got Luther's blood in him, Lenny. He can do it." John said. Lenny opened his mouth to speak, but was cut off by Rorik, who was standing in a now open doorway.
"You know," he said, "You two suck at whispering."
There was an awkward silence, with both Lenny and John shifting awkwardly.
"Rorik, what are you doing? It's not polite to eavesdrop," Lenny said. Rorik raised his eyebrows in disdain.
"Vitamins, Lenny? You don't even take vitamins. And besides, of all people to help you find them, you ask for John? He can hardly find his way out of bed in the morning." Rorik said. John huffed and crossed his arms.
"At least I can get out of bed by myself," he grumbled. Rorik waved the remark away.
"That's not important right now. What is important is that you seem to think Amari is dangerous," he said, "Let me tell you right now: if you plan on hurting Amari in any way, I will end you myself." John sighed.
"Rorik, you don't understand," he said, "Amari is a Shifter. Just by being here, she's putting us all in danger."
Rorik crossed his arms. "What the hell is a Shifter?"
"Bad news for everyone. Trust me, it's not something you want around,"
"Someone," Rorik said, "Amari is a human being, and I don't care what she is. I promised her father I would protect her and if you think I wouldn't kill you both without blinking to uphold that promise, you're gravely mistaken. I may not be smart, but my word is adamant."
"I don't doubt that, Rorik, but Amari's... condition... is rather rare. Rare enough to make her a target." Rorik narrowed his eyes.
"What do you mean?" he asked warily.
"Well," Lenny spoke up, "About a decade before you were born, the Tenebrium Bellator went on a brutal campaign, solely for the purpose of destroying every Shifter they could find. And, up until now, we had thought they'd succeeded."
Rorik blinked and ran a hand through his hair. "What is a Shifter, Lenny? What could be so bad that they'd be hunted to extinction?" Rorik asked.
"Well, to put it simply, Shifters are people with a rare condition: they're born with two classes, most often conflicting. This technically increases their metaphysical capabilities tenfold, but..."
"There's a catch. One's class reflects one's soul. How can one have two souls? The answer is simple: one can't. When a Shifter comes of age, his or her second class fully manifests, and the Shifter begins to lose a sense of who he or she is, often becoming violent in their confusion."
"Lenny, Amari is the last person I'd single out as unsure of herself."
"That's what's worrying us. She's already well over the average manifestation age. She could break any day now, and Shifters can't always deal with the pain." Rorik looked at the floor and sat down in a nearby chair.
"Maybe… I don't know, maybe she's not really a Shifter," he said hopefully, "I mean, you did say they've been gone for years, and Amari's the most level-headed person I know. Is it possible you just read her wrong?" Lenny put a hand on Rorik's shoulder.
"I know it's tough, but I know what I felt. There isn't a doubt in my mind." He said gently. Rorik looked him in the eye.
"Well… she'll at least live, won't she? It's just a condition, right?" Rorik asked, his voice wavering slightly. Lenny glanced at John uncomfortably.
"I'm sorry, Rorik," he said, "but there has never been a Shifter in history to live past the age of twenty-five, even the ones who survive manifestation."
Rorik flinched as if he had just been punched. His hands balled into fists, and a tear escaped from his eye.
"No," he said, shaking, "No, no, no, that can't happen. I promised."
"I'm sorry Rorik, I really am."
"I have to save her, there has to be something, some way to save her."
"There is," John said. Rorik immediately looked up.
"What? What is it?"
"John," Lenny said, shaking his head.
"Lenny, this is the only option and you know it," John said, and turned to Rorik, "When mages want to amplify their power, they can focus it through an object of significance, like an amulet or a dagger, right?" Lenny pursed his lips, and John raised his eyebrows.
"Well, about the time the Alpha was created, Luther created a special device he called the 'epichysis'. It was designed as a catalyst to balance the Alpha's immense metaphysical power, like what an ordinary mage would do but simply on a much larger scale."
"Where are you going with this, John?" Rorik asked, impatient.
"I'm saying that if we could build another epichysis and give it to Amari, it could hypothetically provide a balance between her natural classes and stop them from fighting for dominance."
"Well, an epichysis has never actually been tested on a Shifter before."
"Because," Lenny said, "The epichysis that Luther built was the only one ever made. He's the only one who could have built another one, save for the Beta."
"Then why don't we just find the Beta?"
"Oh, wow, why didn't I think of that? He's not going to be easy to find, and he wouldn't help anyway. In the wrong hands, an epichysis can be deadly. If you're not strong enough, it could rip through your very existence; erase you from the fabric of reality."
Rorik furrowed his eyebrows, deep in thought. "If we were to give it to her, could she handle it?" he asked.
"I'm not sure, to be honest," Lenny said.
"Unfortunately, it's the only shot we have to save her life, and ours," John said. Rorik leaned back and sighed.
"How do we get one?" he asked. Lenny frowned and closed his eyes.
"The Beta won't help, that we can be sure of. As much as I hate to admit it, we need Orion."
"That kid Amari told me about? Why him?" Rorik asked.
"Because he's Luther's son, and he's the only person we can trust that might have an inkling of an idea on how to make an epichysis. The only problem is that he's still locked in the Alpha's basement."
"Technically I'm still an enlisted Tenebrie Warrior. Why don't I just walk in and get him?" Rorik suggested, but John shook his head.
"No good," he said, "I did a little digging while I was out the other day, and according to the Tenebrium Bellator, you've already gone rogue."
"Why don't we sneak in? Orion and Amari did it without a problem."
"That was a setup." John said.
"What do you suggest we do, then?" Rorik said, frowning. John scratched his head.
"I don't know," he said, "but we'll think of something."
They heard the door slam in the next room and a muffled shuffling as Amari kicked off her shoes.
"Seriously, whose idea was it to build the well two miles away?" she called. The door to the closet swung open.
"What's everyone doing in the pantry?" Rorik looked away. Lenny coughed.
"We were... uh... playing cards?" John said, smiling awkwardly. Amari raised her eyebrows.
"Right. Without cards?"
"It's a Gieldic game." John said. Amari chuckled.
"Guys, it's okay. I get it. Guy time. I'll leave you alone." She started to close the door when Rorik caught it.
"Be careful, will you?"
Amari's smile faltered. "Rorik, it's not like I'm leaving the house or anything."
"I know, it's just... just take care of yourself." Rorik said. Amari shrugged.
"Okay, sure," she said and walked out the door. Rorik sighed.
"I think I'm done with Gieldic cards," he said, snatched up his crutches and hobbled out the door. Lenny exchanged glances with John and shook his head. He got up, opened the door, and walked out, followed by John.
Lenny found Rorik moping on his bed. Lenny pulled a chair up and sat down.
"Chin up, kiddo," he said, "It's not like it's hopeless. We can still save her." Rorik shot a look at Lenny.
"'Chin up'?" he said incredulously, "I held Marcus Falora in my arms as he died. I heard the desperation in his voice as he made me promise to look after his daughter. Until today, I've upheld that promise, so you can imagine how I'm feeling now that I know she's got no more than eight years to live her life."
"Rorik, you don't know-" Lenny began to say, but he cut off suddenly. He whipped his head around with a concerned expression on his face.
"Lenny?" Rorik asked, "Lenny, what is it?"
"Don't you feel that?"
"It's... I don't know what it is, but it's giving off a huge metaphysical beacon," he said and walked briskly out the door, with Rorik on his heels. They met Amari and John at the door.
"Do you feel that, Lenny?" Amari said.
"Yeah, and it doesn't feel good," Lenny answered. They exited the camouflaged building and spread out into the clearing. It was late morning, but the shadows of the trees blanketed the ground around them. There was absolute silence as the four waited in anticipation. Lenny's eyes flicked about, a bead of sweat dripping from his brow. A few moments passed, and nothing happened. Amari pursed her lips and looked around.
"Well, whatever it is, I think it's-"
She was suddenly cut off by an enormous beam of white light erupting from nearby and shooting into the sky, lighting up the world around them with a blinding brilliance. The ground around them rumbled with the force of the blast.
"John, get Rorik inside! Amari, come with me!" Lenny shouted over the noise. John nodded and dragged a protesting Rorik inside. Lenny took off into the forest toward the pillar of light with Amari on his tail. He ducked and weaved through the trees, the light getting brighter and brighter as he ran until he finally stopped at a burning crater, nearly a hundred feet in diameter with the beam of light directly in its center. Amari caught up with him at the crater's edge and squinted into the light.
"What is it?" she asked in wonder.
"I don't know, I've never seen anything like it," Lenny said. Amari frowned and took a closer look. Her eyes widened.
"Lenny, there's someone in there!" she shouted. Directly inside of the pillar, a silhouette writhed around inside it. Lenny started down into the crater, but jumped back, wincing with pain. The ground was burning hot.
"Amari!" he shouted, "I need you to cool the ground!"
"What? The whole thing? That could take hours!"
"Just clear me a path!"
Amari nodded and made ready to freeze the ground at Lenny's feet, but something caught her eye.
"What's that?" she asked. Lenny spun around and followed her gaze. Seemingly out of nowhere, a dark, masked figure appeared right next to the beam of light, grabbed the person inside, and vanished in a blur. Just as quickly as it had appeared, the beam of light disappeared, leaving nothing but a scorched crater. There was dead silence.
"Lenny?" Amari asked, "What just happened?" Lenny didn't answer. He descended into the now cool crater to investigate. He walked with Amari to the center and looked around.
"There's nothing left," he said. Amari walked around aimlessly in the crater for a bit until she felt her boot tap something. She looked down and noticed a tiny glint in the soil. She leaned over and picked it up carefully.
"Lenny, I found something," she said.
"What is it?" he asked. Amari extended her hand, revealing what she had picked up. It was a gleaming ring, with the word Orion written in beautiful cursive across its face.
Hello, All! As always, sorry for the wait. I have to admit, writing this chapter was a pain. I don't think I've ever drafted and re-drafted anything so much. I honestly emailed this to myself about eight times, all different versions. However, I can say I am relatively pleased with the way it turned out. I mostly got out the points I wanted to, although I do feel like it came out a bit choppy. I would have spent some more time on it, but I've kept you waiting long enough.
By the way, review! It reassures me that people are actually reading this story, and it puts pressure on me to post chapters sooner!
So, bit of a cliffie there, huh? Gotta love 'em. I hope I didn't infuriate you too much, but if I did, sorry!
Here's a few questions for you guys, just to give you an incentive to review:
What do you think of Amari's condition?
How do you think they'll get the epichysis?
Who was the masked figure?
What the hell happened?
Just something for you guys to chew on.
Coming up next-
You know, normally I'd give you guys a preview, but there's really no way for me to do that without giving something major away. My bad.
À bientôt, mes amis!