Dylan opened the door and two guards looked down on him. "Lady Cliralin's looking for you, kid," one said.
He thought of bringing his sword with him in addition to the bow and quiver, but the guards said he could bring only one weapon. So he chose the bow, hoping his sword and Maria would be safe with Jonas in the meantime. Apparently, Dylan had no choice but to trust him.
He wondered if this was why Kristy had scoffed when Lady Cliralin called him and his sister ‘guests'—it seemed they were more like prisoners.
One guard walked on either side of Dylan as they silently made their way down a flight of stairs, which led into a basement. The air grew damper and cooler as they descended. At the bottom of the stairs were others about his age carrying different weapons, each of them with a disc that held its own symbol—a tree, vine, cloud, and waterfall just to name a few. None had more than one weapon.?
Dylan realized the guards had left as an iron gate he had not seen before was shut behind them. A few daring whispers followed but mostly the room had fallen quiet. Expressions varied from fearful to serious, and some even appeared angry. Several had their weapons ready and seemed ready to kill anything or anyone that stood in their way.?
There was a hissing sound before the cave-room disappeared and Dylan found himself in the middle of a jungle. With his bow still in hand, he took an arrow and set it on the string. He quickly checked his surroundings; he couldn't see much through the trees and hanging vines. Droplets of water were scattered on the ground and others had softly blanketed the leaves of plants.
Dylan saw the others around him standing quietly with their bows and swords drawn, peering into the jungle expectantly. He spotted Kristy and she shrugged when she noticed him, as if in response to an unspoken question.
A deafening roar sounded as an enormous tiger burst from the curtain of trees. Most of the other fighters scattered or found themselves facing other giant creatures. Dylan didn't see them all since his focus was on the tiger, but he could hear the animal screams mixed with shouts of combat.
Dylan drew back the string of his bow, aiming at the tiger. The moment the arrow hit the beast's shoulder, white ice crawled all over it. The creature froze in place, still as a statue.
Then came a cracking noise and the tiger broke loose, lunging at his attacker. Dylan barely had enough time to take out another arrow and send it toward the creature's thick, muscled neck.
Dylan darted aside as crystals began to form on the tiger again, paling the orange fur so it stuck straight. He shot another arrow.
This time, though, something was different—he could see the tiger resisting the power of ice slowly working to overtake it. With a growl the tiger freed itself, and Dylan felt whatever force that had stopped his ice from taking effect slam him to the ground.
He lost his grip on the bow just as the beast swiped at him with knife-sized claws.
Dylan ducked, snatched up his weapon and shot again. The tiger jumped aside so that his arrow sunk into a tree instead. Ice crawled up the tree, turning it from luscious brown and green to a dazzling white.
Was the tiger actually learning from its mistakes? Dylan wondered uneasily. Each time he thought he had the creature down, it would come back stronger and more immune to his attacks.
Dylan spotted a burst of fire from the corner of his eye, accompanied by the crack and buzz of a forcefield; a reminder that he wasn't the only one fighting for his life. And the purpose of all of this? He could only guess.
The tiger gave an irritated growl and the two opponents circled each other distantly. Dylan knew he needed a better strategy.
He readied another arrow then for the first time noticed the beast's yellowish eyes, which were surprisingly like the serpent’s.
Then an idea dawned on him.
Dylan drew back the bowstring, targeting one of the tiger's eyes. With painful fury it clawed at its face, trying to remove the object.
Dylan fled deeper into the jungle.
"He looks promising," the Lord of Corindel commented as he and a lady dressed in silver watched through a glass window. Other guests around them paused in the middle of serving themselves food from the many tables to peer into different windows, which each gave a view through one of the several open portals.
"He's a possible candidate," the woman agreed as she sipped with with refined grace from an emerald wine glass. "What is he? Number 763?”
"I believe so.”
A scream startled the festivities as a darkly hooded figure entered the room, a quiver of arrows strapped on and bow in hand. Other intruders who stood at their leader’s back were dressed similarly.
"Who are you?" the Magician demanded, stepping from the crowd of terrified guests. "Answer me or I will vanish you into silver dust.”
"I am not required to answer your questions," a feminine voice replied as she drew out an arrow. “I come for the prisoners captured from the Uprising.”
"If you think you can simply walk into this castle and take them," the Magician said, putting his hand far out in front of him, palm open, and sending a flash of light, "then you are quite mistaken.”
The woman released an arrow and there was a crack like thunder as a dark force she sent with it collided into his lightning bolt. The impact threw several guests from consciousness.
"Blackhearts!" one of those unharmed cried in terror, and the room immediately became a frenzy of everyone seeking self-preservation.
Before any could exit the room through a back archway, several other hooded archers emerged to stop them.
The Magician alone continued to battle the intruder’s leader with whatever forces he was capable of wielding; yet she matched every one of them. She held out her palm as he had done before and sent a wave of silver dust. A chill swept through him and he collapsed weak and as immobilized as stone.
She kicked him, evoking a low moan. "Weakling," she taunted in a low voice. "You may pretend to be a king, but you are nothing but a foolish coward who meets the requests of a Sorcerer.”
Two Blackhearts jerked the Magician to his knees. "You can't take Lilithia," he said numbly, barely able to move his lips.
"Really? And who will stop me?" She turned to one of her dark servants. "Find the descendants. I can sense them."?
Eerie silence again, same as when he'd first entered the arena. Dylan thought he could could see another fighter crouched on the ground near the foot of a tree, hidden in a thicket. She soon disappeared from sight.
"I'll admit that I was surprised by you." Dylan recognized the Sorcerer’s voice even before he turned to see.
Dylan eyed a group of serpents that had approached and was surprised to see that they were hesitant to move on and attack, though they obviously wanted to.
Isirien came closer to him, holding a hand up as a clear signal to the serpents behind him.
Dylan felt a sudden chill. "What do you want?”
"Your family," Isirien said with a knowing smile. "I know where they are.”
“Where?” Dylan demanded, not sure he would receive a truthful answer.
"Let me put things in perspective," he said. "Either you die and we take your Elemental Disc—and perhaps the soul it mingles with—or you join me and wield the power as you are commanded. What will it be?”
"I'm not joining you," Dylan said immediately, hiding the gut wrenching feeling that his decision might affect his family's safety.
Isirien smiled, evidently knowing he had the upper hand. ”Last chance," he said, prepared to snap his fingers at any moment. The serpents hissed eagerly, awaiting the moment they would be released.
"If I did," Kristy said suddenly, coming out of hiding, "Would you release my family?"
"Of course," Isirien replied as Kristy approached him without trace of hesitation.
"Kristy, wait!" Dylan called after her. How could she not tell she was walking into a trap? Then he saw her hand enclose around the hilt of her sword. She immediately drew it when she was closer to Isirien.
Before Dylan could register what had happened, Isirien had given a cry of pain and was limping backward with a wounded and burned shoulder. Coming to his senses, Dylan guided an arrow in the direction of the Sorcerer's heart.
Isirien gasped and Dylan could see he was struggling to resist the ice overtaking him. Kristy stepped back from the Sorcerer and the flames she had used to injure him disappeared from her sword until it appeared to be nothing more than a regular weapon. She looked at Dylan, and he wasn't sure if she was eye signaling him to shoot again or what. But he decided to anyway. By the third arrow Isirien was frozen; and then he vanished.
The serpents appeared uneasy. Apparently they hadn't expected their leader to be overpowered, and definitely not so quickly. A few slithered away, deciding it wiser to back off than meet the same fate, but one shouted from among the crowd, "Why you wait? Get them!"