Chapter 17



lackmasks came at them from all directions, racing to get to them first. Mindi and Kira raised their swords, ready for attack, but there was no need. As soon as he had issued the order, Landon flung his sword at the wall, slicing the rope in two in one stroke. The Blackmasks began to stop, some in confusion and some to see what was happening over their heads. As soon as the rope was cut, the chandelier swung to the side and smashed into a pillar, just as planned. The chandelier being extremely heavy metal, the pillar was knocked to the side, crashing into another pillar and that one into the next. Soon the pillars were all falling on to each other, crumbling to pieces and causing the entire chamber to shake. Then the walls began to rumble. Blocks fell from the ceiling, smashing to pieces as they hit the floor and flying dangerously in several directions. Without the pillars, there was nothing to hold up the entire structure. It was like the blocks he’d played with as a child. He would build them up delicately and then when it was so high it was swaying precariously, he would take out the bottom center and the whole thing would come toppling down. Take out the foundation and the whole thing would come crashing down.

            The only problem was that they, too, were down there in the collapsing room.

            Mindi and Kira didn't spare a moment to gawk. They hefted up Mark, careful not to touch the arrow in his shoulder, and half carried him toward the exit. The last pillar was about to fall—on the door. Seeing the predicament, they picked up the speed, racing toward the door before the wobbling pillar fell. Luckily, they made it out as the pillar began to topple.

            "Kodan!" he yelled frantically. He'd totally forgotten that he was in there. As if on cue, Kodan abandoned the injured dingo and hopped through the door—just as the pillar slammed onto the ground, blocking the exit and trapping all the Blackmasks in. Battling the urge to whoop in victory and cry from stress, he ran down the hallway, behind the others to make sure they made it out fast enough. Between dodging falling stones and climbing over piles of rubble, he began to run out of breath. Not only were the hallways long and dark, but he had absolutely no idea where they were going. Occasionally he could feel the slight slope in the floor that told him he was going up, but most of the time they just ran blindly through the base, hoping they would eventually come across the way out.

            "I think we’re going the wrong way!" Mark shouted, struggling to look behind. The ceiling just behind them caved in, blocking the way back.

            "Never mind."

            "What are we supposed to do, now?" panted Mindi frantically. He’d never seen her express much more emotion than contempt or satisfaction, but now he could see the worry written on her face as clear as he heard it in her voice. Her spiky hair seamed to stand straighter with fear. She stared expectantly at Landon.

            "Why are you all looking at me?" he moaned helplessly. Why did the responsibility always fall on him—the least experienced of the group?

            "Because you’re Landon Evers, the living legend, remember?" Mark snapped.

            Landon was sick of hearing his own destiny told to him, whether it was true or not. "You don’t honestly believe that, too, Mark. Really, I’m not the great man everybody says I am."

            "Yes, I do believe it, because it’s true!" Mark growled, his voice growing louder as he spoke. "I testify henceforth and forever that Landon Bren Evers is the most incredible person I have ever met!" His expression softened into almost defeat. “As cheesy as this may sound, I believe in you. If you can’t do it, we’re all dead. And I know you can. So hurry up and lead us!"

            If it weren't for Kodan's soft woof, he would have stood there—slack jawed—until the entire building crashed down on top of them. To his knowledge, Mark—who made fun of Landon for being so innocent—had never spoken so highly of anyone but himself in his lifetime. To know that he thought so much of him sparked a flurry of emotions ranging from disbelief to confusion to a guilty streak of pride that coursed through him in one frozen moment. Fortunately, Kodan anchored him back to the present. Ripping his eyes away from Mark's determined face, he saw that the agitated wolf was perched halfway up the pile of stones that blocked the way back, staring up at where the ceiling used to be—into the hallway above.

            "You're a genius!" he cried, climbing the pile on all fours to get to him. The others followed behind, their bewilderment clear on their faces. They were probably wondering if Mark's speech had gotten to his head, but it was Kodan who had saved them. As they slowly helped Mark climb the pile, they began to realize what had inspired Landon's excitement. The pile had fallen through the floor, creating a hole to the corridor above—a shortcut to the upper floor.

            As soon as they managed to crawl through the hole, Kodan set off down the tunnel, his nose to the floor. They followed without question, grateful that the wolf had decided to tag along. The ascent was slow going, but he figured that hurrying in the right direction was better than dashing about aimlessly. Kodan seemed to have things under control.

            The climbed through a few more holes and followed faithfully while the building continued to rumble threateningly. Finally, his figure froze and he raised his head from the ground and howled. The sound echoed ominously throughout the building, but Kodan didn't seem disturbed. He took off at full speed, leaving them to try and catch up. The building had begun to shake harder, and Landon could hear the crashes beneath him as the underground maze collapsed in on itself.

            They rounded a corner and Landon released the breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding. The door lay just ahead, at the end of the hallway. With renewed energy, he bolted toward safety. He should have figured that luck would be against him, though. Just as he reached halfway there, the floor in front of him caved in, creating a gaping hole that stood in-between him and life. Unable to cut off his momentum, he skidded partially into the gap, but was saved by Kira. Once he was temporarily safe on the wrong side, he resisted the urge to use a few choice words that Uncle Ben would not have been proud of. Kodan had made it over and stood gazing worriedly at them from the other side. Desperation consumed him. They had come all this way; there was no way he was giving up now. Groping for a solution, he thought about what Mark had said; I believe in you. So what if he believed in him? That wouldn't save their lives. He was just setting himself up for disappointment. If only I could believe in myself like they believe in me. Well, as he'd realized while standing in the center of the windstorm, it's live or die trying. It was time to get creative.

            He stared into the faces of his friends that had risked so much for him and knew that he couldn't let them down. Live or die trying....this had better work. Without a word of warning, he stepped into the hole. There was a cry of protest as they realized what he was doing that dwindled into surprised silence when they saw that he hadn't fallen. Instead, he stood on....nothing. Sweat trickled from his forehead as he struggled to keep the air flowing at the right force in the right place. Using air to walk on nothing wasn't an easy task.

            "Come on! We haven't got all day!" he shouted desperately, the strain becoming harder and harder to withstand. First they handed Mark to him like a baby, but by then his friend was in too much pain to care. Landon was too consumed in dealing with holding the weight of two people with not even the floor to support him to be gentle. He took him in his arms and practically tossed him to the other side. Kira came next, stepping on his feet instead. For a moment his balanced teetered a little bit, but with clenched teeth he quickly got her to the other side and regained himself before he took Mindi. She did the same as her sister and they were soon all safely on the other side. Kira swung open the door and for a moment they were blinded by the light that met their eyes—which had become accustomed to the darkness—so suddenly. And none too soon, for hardly a minute had passed since they had escaped that the outside walls began to collapse.

            Scrambling backward to get further away (ignoring the fact that they had sand in uncomfortable places), they watched as the walls crumbled into the spaces that the hallways had previously occupied. Sand poured into the gaps. Dust flew into the air. The concept that there was an entire building's worth of rubble reaching down into the depths of the sand made the destruction even more fascinating. Then he remembered the bodies that were buried beneath that pile. The hundreds of lives he'd ended just by one slash of his sword. He knew he shouldn't mourn the removal of evil, but he couldn't help but wonder if he was any better than them. He'd taken so many lives, so many futures, away from them in the pursuit of a good cause. But could murder ever result in good? Why was his life valued above the hundreds that he'd killed?

            He remembered the look on King Carlon's as he murdered his parents, the hate and malice painted on his face. Were they all like that? Or were they just soldiers fighting for what they believed in? He felt he didn't know the least of what was going on with the war that was rising. Was he really a hero? The itching question that he'd worked so hard to quench floated from its hiding place and into his brain. Am I doing this for good, or for revenge? He'd never told anyone about his doubts, not even Chelsea. Of course I'm doing this for the good of the people, he would tell himself, but after every time he ended a life, the same question entered his thoughts, torturing his conscience to find an honest answer. He feared that it wouldn't be one he liked.

            Kodan nosed him gently on the arm, looking for all the world like he was concerned for him. He'd heard once that dogs could sense emotions and knew that at least this one could.

            "You were amazing," he whispered, scratching him tenderly behind the ear. "Thank you." Kodan whined and set his head on Landon's lap. He felt like he hadn't slept in ages. Adjusting his posture so the wolf could lay on him more comfortably, he moved his hand back to support his weight.

            It landed in something wet and sticky.

            Startled, he pulled his hand back—disrupting Kodan—and stared on the thick red liquid that coated his hand. Whipping around, he saw Mark looking ghostly white as he stared at the circle of red that surrounded the arrow. His right hand crept toward the wound and blood smeared on his pale skin. He looked at it and moaned. Who knew that Mark would be queasy at the sight of blood? Or perhaps he was just in shock.

            Landon had totally forgotten that he was injured.

            "Mindi! Kira! We need to get him back!" The sisters looked up from counting the weapons that had survived and didn't need more than a glance at Mark to know that he was right. Shuffling to stand up, they hurried over and each claimed a side of him to support. It was awkward, since they were trying not to further hurt his shoulder, but eventually they made it close enough back to camp that some soldiers, seeing the situation, came out to help. Someone brought a stretcher and they gingerly lifted him onto it. Jeaine ran out to meet them, tears already streaming down her face as they marched him over to the medic's wagon. Chelsea was close behind, quickly examining the situation. As soon as she concluded that there was nothing she could do to help, she made a beeline straight to Landon. He welcomed her with open arms, and for a moment they both held each other silently, savoring the relief of being together again.

            After a long moment, she pulled away, staring into his eyes and demanding an explanation. "What happened?"

            "It was a Blackmask Base," he explained briefly. "We barely managed to escape."

            Her eyes turned questioningly to the spot where the small building had been. Her voice trembled as she spoke. "We saw it collapse and I thought—"

            "It's okay," he murmured, pulling her back into his arms. "We're alright. The Blackmasks are gone." He half expected her to insist that she didn't need comforting, but she hugged him tighter instead. She really had been worried about him.

            Stefan approached them and he had to pull away to give him the update. Chelsea listened as he went through a very detailed account of what had happened. Stefan seemed troubled and excited at the same time. When he finished, the Prince pondered his story for a moment.

            "This means that there are probably more bases out there," he thought aloud. "This can be a good thing. Our searches can be more organized and the attacks more efficient. But we'll worry about that later. Right now, Mark needs us." Landon, who had been getting fidgety with worry, took Chelsea’s hand and pulled her toward the medic’s wagon.

            The wagon was more or less a miniature house, complete with windows and a door. Inside, there were several cabinets containing salves and medicines and the like. A simple white bed was pushed to the side for patients, which Mark currently occupied. The medic was busy examining the wound when they entered. The wagon being so small, it was somewhat crowded and stuffy, so Stefan offered to wait outside. That left the patient and the medic; Landon, Chelsea, Jeaine, and Kodan to squeeze around the bed. The doctor occasionally threw dirty looks at the wolf, but he was either too scared or too polite to order him out. Raina and Lee had demanded entrance, but Stefan had told them there was no room. The truth was he didn’t want the children seeing the operation.

            As for Mark, well, Landon was glad the kids couldn’t see him right then. His face was as white as a ghost as he tried not to look at the blood that gushed out of his shoulder. He could see the tense muscles in his jaw contract as the medic deftly cleaned the wound around the arrow. His hair looked redder than usual when soaked in sweat.

            "How is he doing?" Chelsea asked.

            Without looking up, he said, "The wound is covered in sand, so I’m cleaning it before I take out the arrow. Then we’ll put Jeaine’s talent to the test. I’ll be done in a moment."

            They waited patiently as he performed his miracles.

            "Alright," he said finally. "Since he seems to be extremely sensitive to the sight of blood," Mark groaned faintly in protest, "we’ll have to blindfold him." Jeaine lifted his head gently as the medic quickly tied a black cloth over his eyes. "Now, I’ll need someone to hold his arm down, just in case." Without a word, Landon stepped forward and pressed his weight down on Mark’s left arm. Jeaine held his right hand, tears still streaming unchecked down her face. The extraction was quick, but if this was anything like the time when Landon had been shot, then to Mark it must have felt like years. Listening to Mark scream in agony, he felt deep sympathy for him. He’d gone through the same thing, and he still shuddered at the memory of the pain. When the arrow was out of his shoulder and sitting on the small counter, blood immediately began to flow anew. The medic handled it calmly, cleaning it once more. When he was satisfied that it was ready, he turned the rest over to Jeaine.

            Her hands trembling, she let go of his hand to put hers lightly on his shoulder. Mark lifted his hand until it was touching her arm. He traced his fingers tenderly down her arm, as if drawing strength from her touch, and then he let his arm fall back down to his side. She looked at his blindfolded face and drew a deep breath before closing her eyes. Mark's fingers tucked into a fist and he tensed as the magic coursed through him, his wound slowly closing up as if by itself. Landon stared in wonder, fascinated at the sight. He'd seen her heal many times, but usually it was performed on him. Actually seeing the wound heal was much stranger than just feeling it. When she was done, she slumped back into against the wall, and the medic offered her the stool he'd previously been sitting on. During the healing he'd stood up to get a closer look.

            Both Mark and Jeaine looked exactly how Landon felt: tired. Through the window he could see the sun setting, casting red and orange hues across the sky. Just looking at it made him tired, and he slouched a little with drowsiness.

            "My, my, you, my son, look all tuckered out," said the doctor in a no-nonsense tone. It took Landon a moment to realize he was talking to him.

            "Yeah," he muttered, rubbing the back of his head and resisting the urge to yawn. "It's been an eventful day."

            He quirked an eyebrow, perhaps in disapproval. "You are the famous Landon Evers, are you not?" Landon nodded, sincerely wishing that he could say otherwise. Luckily, the doctor had other ideas in mind rather than praising him. He grabbed his wrist and checked his pulse, then put a hand to his forehead. Clucking his tongue, he said, "You've been working yourself much too hard and resting much too little. Even you need to slow down sometimes. I assume that this power that you have requires energy?" He didn't wait for an answer. "Then you must be just as tired as you look. I have soldiers that are dragging their feet just from walking! You, however, you've stopped the forces of nature itself today, and on top of that wiped out an entire colony of Blackmasks! Why, I don't see why you aren't in bed right now!"

            "Tell me about it," he mumbled, glad to hear that someone else shared his views. "But I won't leave Mark."

            The medic sighed, running a hand through his graying hair. "I suspected as much." He muttered something bitterly, apparently in inner conflict. "Since he is obviously your friend, I will let you stay with him just this once. But tomorrow you must sleep, and I will have no excuses!" With that, he marched out of the wagon to see to some more minor injuries.

            Landon sat on the edge of the bed and removed the cloth from Mark's eyes. He seemed to be asleep. Jeaine moved from the stool to the bed, and Chelsea claimed the seat for herself. They all sat in silence until one by one, the girls fell asleep. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn't seem to make himself drift off, no matter how sleepy he felt. Perhaps he was afraid of his dreams. Every time his actions led to another's death, they would appear in his dreams that night to haunt him.

            "Do you dream about them?" Mark's voice came out in a raspy whisper, startling Landon, who'd thought he was fast asleep.

            "Who?" he whispered back, careful not to wake the girls. He already knew the answer.

            "The people we've killed. Do you see them in your dreams?"

            "Yes." His voice was so low even he could hardly hear it.

            Mark shifted slightly, his eyes falling on Jeaine's sleeping form. Tenderness that Landon had never seen in him before shone brightly in his eyes.  "Me too."

            There was a silence as they both mourned the dead.

            "I also see her," Mark said, stroking Jeaine's dark curls.

            A half smile crept onto Landon's face. "Same here. But with Chelsea, of course." She was the sunshine in the night of his dreams. "Mark?"

            "Yeah?" he muttered as he started to drift back to sleep.

            "Thanks. You saved my life."

            "Yeah, well, you need to stop needing to be rescued. It hurts." He still had his old spark, thankfully.

            "You were the one who dragged me into it in the first place!" Landon protested. He had warned them! But no, Mark wanted to see some explosions!

            Mark smiled slyly, an all too familiar expression. "That's not what I meant. Heroes take chances, but they always save the day in the end."

            "I guess that means Kodan is the hero, then." Kodan—who was sleeping on Mark's stomach—twitched an ear in his sleep.

            His smile widened. "Keep telling yourself that, Landon, and someday it might come true." Letting his eyes close, the steady rise and fall of his chest returned.

            Landon studied his sleeping form for a while, wondering what in the world could have brought this on. Maybe the shock was still wearing off, because Mark was hardly a tender person and he was never philosophical. Well, he hadn't known that Mark got queasy at the sight of blood before today, hadn't he? Maybe there was a lot about Mark that he had yet to find out. Every time he thought he thought he had his friend all figured out, he continued to surprise him. Mark had always been a fan of spontaneity, after all.

            Letting himself relax, he finally fell asleep.



Blaze sat contentedly in his chambers, pondering recent events. So far, he'd successfully foiled several of Winslow's plans without detection. Sure, the old geezer was beginning to suspect a betrayal, but he was still far from the truth. He would never suspect.

            Though, as satisfied as he felt in his silent victories, he also felt utterly confused. Was he ruining his dream for revenge? It was hard to imagine that being a King had ever appealed to him. He'd had everything a king had without the responsibility and been perfectly content. But no, that wasn't enough! He just had to have power, and what had it brought him? Nothing good that he didn't already have. Winslow had tried so hard to make him a king and....Winslow. Why did his name always come up when he was wondering how he'd gotten to be so totally miserable. This was all Winslow's fault! But did he really want to sacrifice his power just to get revenge?

            Lo and behold, the endless circle of his misery replayed in his mind again and again.

            There was a knock on his door, and he grudgingly told whoever it was to enter. Just his luck; it was the very person he hated most in the world.

            Sighing with annoyance, he snapped, "What now?"

            Winslow's features were grim, but that was an emotion to be expected from him. "Sire, I am sorry to inform you that the Desert Base has been destroyed. Bernard's faction found it in a heap of rubble yesterday."

            Blaze couldn't decide if he should be happy that another of Winslow's plans had been foiled or angry that his father's secret society had been attacked. Anger, as always, won over. Nobody got to undermine Winslow's plans but him! He suspected the Evers boy to have a hand in this crime.

            "What do you suppose we do, then?" Blaze asked, attempting feebly to keep the hostility out of his voice.

            A pleased glint sparkled in the old oaf's eye. "We don't have enough time nor do we have enough people to spare in rebuilding it. I suggest we leave it for now and focus on what we do have."

            Blaze considered this for a moment, trying to feel useful. "See to it then." Winslow bowed and left the room.

            He only wished there was another way to make both of them pay. 


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