Zeph spent the next week enjoying a peaceful school life, no attacks, no terrorists, and no surprises. Things were going well. The city was back to business as usual, recovering well from the convergence. People were feeling safe again. A big contributor to that feeling was the five newly arrived Valir in the City. They met with Bernard and the city council while Zeph was at school. He complained to his grandpa because he wanted to meet them, but Bernard placated the boy by saying they would visit his school sometime in the coming weeks. When Zeph told his friends about it, they were overjoyed.
Semara spent the week trying to embarrass Bianca whenever she got the chance. The fox-girl was stuck wearing skirts for a week and Semara made a habit of creating surprise breezes. Bianca and Semara also bugged Zeph about his new adult form they were planning to unveil during the weekend.
Bernard caught wind of their plans and decided to create a quick app that would let them create a three-dimensional hologram of what they wanted Zeph to turn into. By the weekend, it was done. That led to Friday afternoon full of fun as people gathered around the couch making their own digital dress up doll. Lili and Ivy were told that it was an app meant to help people decide what to wear or use as a reference for illusion magic. As usual, Ivy decided to mess with Zeph. She made one of him as a girl with a fluffy yellow dress and pig-tails. It took six minutes before everyone stopped laughing at his expense. Since he could shapeshift, everyone tried to get him to make that image a reality by chanting 'Do it, do it' over and over again. Zeph just walked away, eliciting a series of boos from the crowd. When he came back, everyone was watching Ivy work on an impressive display. She was lost in her own little world as she decorated the background of an image of an adult version of her and Zeph in a wedding dress and a tuxedo. Relina followed up a similar picture of her and Eli. It was then that the two boys decided it was time for a quick run to Manaburger.
"This is nice, we haven't gotten time to hang out together like this in a while," Zeph said as they were driving to their favorite fast food joint.
"Yeah, things sure have been busy. Hopefully, it'll ease up soon. We've rounded up the majority of the bad guys and your grandpa's almost figured out what's keeping the ley-lines all gunked up. Now, all we need is to figure out who's behind this mess and I can go back to my hammock and chill." Eli smiled at the thought of spending a lazy day swaying in his makeshift tree grove in the backyard.
"What about your girlfriend? I think she was trying to tell you something with that picture."
"Oh ya, that. Well, she's already proclaimed I'm not getting away from her, so I'll probably propose sometime in the spring," Eli said with a smile. "What about you and Ivy? She may have stopped the aggressive tactics Rel came up with, but the girl doesn't look like she plans on giving up."
Zeph winced. "I'm assuming you're talking about when she gets older. She's a cute girl and a good friend, but that's all. I can't really picture getting a girlfriend until I figure myself out first."
"What if you've got yourself figured out and she's older and still likes you?" Eli glanced at the aetherling.
Zeph tapped his chin, "If that's the case, and I don't have anyone I like by then, I would probably ask her out on a date."
"So we've established that there's a chance for her." Eli smiled conspiratorially. He was definitely going to tell Relina about this.
"Yeah, but why's it so important to you?"
"She is going to be my future granddaughter. I just want her and my friend to be happy. If you two get together, then that's two birds with one stone." Eli gave Zeph a grin that the boy was sure sparkled.
"Fair enough. This isn't where I thought the conversation was headed though."
"Really, what did you think we would talk about?"
"I don't know… guy stuff. Magic, games, but definitely not love advice."
"Oh, that wasn't really advice, just curiosity. If you want my advice, don't let age prevent you from falling in love." Eli said sagely. Before Zeph could interrupt, Eli continued, "Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying to hook up with Ivy or anything. I mean that we're members of long-lived races. In the future, you might fall in love with someone older, like an elf, or someone younger. One of the things elves are taught is to cherish that love while you're together. You'll most likely outlive them, so make sure that you make that time memorable. It's one of the reasons Rel is so clingy. She knows what it's like to outlive someone you care about."
Zeph thought silently, going over what Eli said. "I've never really thought about my future like that." Eli was right. Zeph would likely live for a very long time. Bernard said that he had an indeterminate lifespan and was near immortal thanks to his regenerative ability. Aside from attacks that could affect his mind or soul, Zeph could recover from just about anything.
Eli patted his shoulder, "Don't worry too much. Just keep it on the backburner and remember it for later.
"Yeah, I will." Zeph gave his head a quick shake to move on with his thoughts. "So, I think we should get them to fill the bottom half of grandpa's vanilla shake with chocolate. It would probably confuse the hell out of him."
"You're right about that. We should probably get him a second shake to appease him if he gets mad." Eli chuckled. He was about to say something else when he was interrupted by a light beeping noise. The elf hit the brakes and pulled over to the side of the road.
"What's going on?" Zeph asked, surprised by the sudden stop.
"There's someone using demonic energy nearby." He picked up a small blinking device from his belt. "Your grandpa had some of his guys make this thing. It helps us figure out who's a cultist because their magic is tainted by demonic energy. It's what was giving them a power boost." Eli started sweeping the device back and forth. The beeping changed into a long tone when he pointed down the alleyway. "This thing only starts up when someone's used demonic energy recently. That means there must be someone down this alleyway." Eli started to get out of the car when he looked at Zeph. "You comin'?"
"I can't very well guard you while you're in the car and I'm out there, can I? Besides, you can take it. And if you can't, I got your back."
Ashely Avery's world was falling apart. She knew things were getting strange around her home. Her father had been hiring more and more people and bringing them on to the property, giving them places to stay in their servant's quarters. Those people were strange. They looked like they were ready to erupt in violence at a moment's notice. That eruption happened today when her father grabbed her and put her into the panic room of their mansion. There were monitors showing the outside of the mansion, and the rooms inside.
Those people were storming their home, being led by a man cloaked in shadows. They screamed for her father's blood and her family's, calling them betrayers and other awful things. She could still remember the haunting voice of the shadowy figure creeping into her ears from outside the warded room. Her father made a deal. A deal he failed to hold up. Now his debtor wanted payment, and the payment was his life or hers.
She remembered the look on his face as she watched the monitor showing what was going on outside the panic room. Her father told the creature that he would fulfill his debt, and to leave his daughter alone. Ashley winced as the memory of what the demon did flashed through her mind. It made her an orphan.
She never knew her mother, as she died in childbirth, and her father was often distant. But, she could tell that the man loved her even if he didn't show it. Then the demon looked at the warded door to the panic room and laughed as he started to tear it apart. One of the men questioned what it was doing. It simply stated, "I said I wouldn't kill her. I never mentioned anything about the rest of you." As the last barrier to the room crumbled down, the thing finished speaking. "Do with her as you will."
Ashley was at the back of the room, ready to use the last resort her father had installed in the panic room. She slammed her hand against the wall and activated the spell. The floor gave out underneath her, sending the girl sliding down a tunnel and out of the mansion. Fire engulfed the panic room and spread to the rest of the house in seconds. Finally, the tunnel behind Ashley started to collapse.
The slide took her outside of the property, to an abandoned looking shed. Ashley quickly called the only person she could trust at the moment, Jasper. She told him that she was in trouble and she needed him to come get her. Now she just had to wait, as she played the recent events over and over again in her head. After waiting for what seemed like forever, Jasper showed up in a stolen car.
She didn't know where he got it or how he knew to drive, but Ashley didn't ask any questions. Instead, she told him to head to the police. The two made their way further into the city when a car crashed into them. Jasper and Ashley were able to protect themselves with magic, but the car was done for. As they got out of the vehicle, Ashley recognized the people in the other car. They were some of the people who attacked the mansion. A few of them had burns on their body and their clothes were singed.
She grabbed Jasper and started to run. They ran down the street and ducked into an alleyway in hopes of hiding from their pursuers, but it didn't work. Jasper tried to protect her and brought out two long knives from his sides. Ashley didn't even notice he had them, but she also wasn't thinking clearly for a while now.
Jasper took a fighting stance and waited for one of the pursuers to make the first move. This was his first real fight. Sure, he'd practiced before and sparred. But this, this was life and death. He was doing his best not to let the fear consume him. Out of the four men that chased them down, one stepped forward.
"It looks like someone wants to play." The lanky man with burns spread across his face sneered at the young boy. "Well I'll play with you," he shouted and shot a black flame at Jasper.
To his credit, Jasper wasn't a valir student for nothing. He managed to roll out of the way of the attack and send a green colored blast of magic at his attacker. Unfortunately, it dissipated against the man's spell armor. Jasper said the only thing that came to mind in that situation. "Shit!"
A wave of dark energy slammed into the young boy, sending him flying back against the wall. "Tell you what kid, I'll give you an E for effort," the burnt man said condescendingly while he walked up to Jasper. Covering his hand in a dark layer of magic, he punched Jasper in the gut and shattered his spell armor.
The other men laughed at the boy's pain and started to close in on Ashley. They picked her up while she screamed and struggled against them and threw her on the floor next to her little bodyguard. She could see the madness in their eyes. One of them started to speak. "How do you think we should do this?" Another one answered, "Slowly and painfully of course." A third spoke, "Make it quick, someone might have heard the bitch screaming."
The burnt man started laughing, "Let's burn them. A little payback for earlier." That got a nod of approval from the group of demon followers. They all raised their arms towards the two children and created dark flames ready to burn them. Ashley screamed while Jasper covered her, trying to use his body as a shield. After a few seconds, nothing happened. Instead of flame and pain, they were met with silence and the sound of footsteps approaching.
Jasper turned around and his jaw dropped. The four men were covered in vines wrapped around them like a cocoon. An elf in cargo shorts and a T-shirt approached them. He kept a hold of Ashley in case he attacked. Ashley finally opened her eyes to the surprising scene in front of her. The elf looked familiar. She could have sworn she'd seen him around the school. Then she heard a familiar voice.
"What the hell are you two doing here?" Zeph asked, surprised to see his two classmates.
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