Red. The only color for miles. Granted there were varying shades of red presented, but overall the effect was like wearing rose tinted glasses and being unable to take them off. They had been driving for only a day and a half and he was already tired of the never ending hills of red sand. Not to mention the ever present heat. The night was blissfully cool while the day was energy sucking hot. The Jeep they rented had little to no AC and rolling the windows down just invited sand to fly in.
The Fairy Queen had deposited them at one of her shrines in the Sahara Desert. Apparently the desert itself was an "open sanctuary". Meaning it had no formal borders or caretakers. The magical creatures were few and far in between while the land was so hostile that few humans came there anyway. The natives still revered the ancient magics and left well enough alone. The shrine was a rundown sandstone well outside a small village that looked as if it had never been used. The people spoke no English and pretty much left the visitors alone.
Seth had slept for 3 days after they came out of the portal. During which Kendra and Bracken had done nothing but argue while Warren tried not to go crazy. Eventually he woke up, explained where they were and where they needed to go, tried unsuccessfully to appease Bracken, and headed off as soon as the sun started to go down. Kendra of course followed immediately, Bracken followed just for her sake (grumbling the whole time) and Warren was simply too hot to complain. They had rented a run down Jeep that had more sand in its engine than actual fluids. Somehow Seth produced local currency and they loaded up the Jeep with gas and supplies.
The sun was a fiery orange, spreading fingers of red and yellow streaking across the sky. Low mountains in the distance shimmered in the evening air while buzzing crickets and beetles began their nightly activities. Warren took one more sip of water before sadly watching the last drop fall onto his cracked lips. Groaning he rasped, "If we don't find some kind of water soon I think I'm gonna just wither away." "It'll be fine," Seth replied as he repacked a bag. "We're almost there, just another couple miles and you'll have your water."
"Pfff." Came a condescending huff. "We've been driving for days now with nothing but sand and bones for miles. How do we know you're even heading in the right direction?" Bracken muttered loudly. Seth sighed and looked at him wearily. "Can't you feel it? The very air is thick with magic, its pulling us towards its source." Standing up he pointed at the dunes around them. "Notice their shape, their form. Its subtle but you can see the effect the tree has had. The sand moves and flows like roots, twisting towards the tree. Once you see the path its hard to stray from it."
Bending over he snatched the backpack up and swung it onto his shoulder. "Believe me or not you're already here. Unless you know your way around this desert I'm your best bet at staying alive right now. Your choice." Warren could feel the tension rising again. This had been the whole trip so far. Sure he wasn't entirely certain what was going on but jeez, Bracken was being a jerk. The two stared hard at each other, neither giving in. Eventually Seth turned away and headed to the Jeep. Kendra sighed and stood to follow. She had started the trip peppering Seth with questions and telling stories about home. Eventually exhaustion set in and she fell quiet, simply following her brother.
Begrudgingly Bracken followed suit and they took off again. Driving along Warren felt his eyes grow heavy. Settling back he fell into a sweaty, tired sleep.
BOOM! A massive explosion woke Kendra from her restless nap. As soon as they had taken off again she and Warren had fallen asleep. Man she was exhausted. Whap, whap, whap, whap! The sounds of metal hitting metal very quickly reminded her of why she had woken up. The sky was dark with clouds and night, the only light coming from the headlights of their vehicle and from somewhere behind them. Seth was driving incredibly fast, Warren was leaning out the window and Bracken was shaking her. "You're awake!" He shouted. Another loud explosion rocked the Jeep and Warren shouted, pulling himself back in. Kendra saw blood running down his face. "What's happening?" She asked anxiously.
Bracken slammed her head down as more bullets shot through the back window. "We're under attack." He replied, holding her down. Seth grunted and swerved the Jeep. "It's the Circle!" He yelled. "They've finally caught up to us!" The Jeep jumped off a hill and hit the ground. More bullets shot past them. "What do we do?" Warren questioned as the Jeep jerked again. Seth slammed the gearshift and swung around a pile of rocks. "Take the wheel for me!" He shouted back. He let go of the wheel and Warren quickly shifted to grab it. With some pretty impressive timing and flexibility the two switched spots.
Seth crouched on the passenger seat and opened the skylight. "Warren I need you to keep heading for the middle of those two rock spires up there. Kendra see if you can help him. Bracken I'm gonna need you to open the trunk door and try to distract the drivers." Another round of bullets pelted the Jeep. Warren jerked the car to avoid them. Taking a breath Bracken nodded at Seth and pulled out his horn. Seth quickly climbed out and up. Kendra jumped forward into the passenger seat as Bracken climbed over the back. Ducking down to avoid the next flurry of bullets he kick the back open and aimed his horn. A flash of bright light lit up the sky.
Kendra glanced back and saw a dark shape leap onto the closest vehicle. Bracken's distraction had worked and the three vehicles attacking them had fallen back a bit. An explosion erupted from the first vehicle and the shape jumped from the first onto the next. From the light of the fire she saw two black things spin out from her brother's shape and slice through the third vehicle, cutting its tires and causing it to turn and flip over. The last car swerved and jerked, trying to shake off its passenger.
The Jeep caught on the sand as the ground suddenly changed to hard flat earth. Warren aimed the vehicle at two tall spiraling rock shapes far in the distance. The air filled with light, a spotlight aimed directly at them. Shielding her eyes Kendra looked up to see a large military style helicopter easily keeping pace with them. The light stayed on them for a moment before it turned to follow the last car. A shape leaned out of the helicopter and fired off a series of shots, aiming at the car.
"They're firing at their own people!" She gasped. The black car tried to avoid its fate but it soon lost control and hit a rock, flipping forward. "No!" She shouted. Where was Seth? Where was her brother? With a flurry of wind she was distracted as the helicopter suddenly moved forward and hovered directly in front of the the Jeep. Another spotlight hit them from behind. With a curse Warren slammed on the brakes. Several figures jumped off the first copter and headed towards them, each holding a rifle. Kendra's heart pounded along to the thrum of the Jeep's engine and the swirling of the sand.
"Get out with your hands up!" A voice commanded. Kendra looked at Warren, waiting for his response. He didn't move, one hand on the gearshift the other on the wheel. "Now. Before we shoot!" Warren's hand slowly shifted the car into reverse. Kendra tightened her grip on the dashboard and reached back for her husband's hand. Before they could attempt a completely idiotic plan a shout echoed out behind them. Glancing in the side mirror she watched the dark shape leap impossibly far and grab the second helicopter's landing bar and drag the gunman off. He fell screaming to the earth. The copter lifted higher and spun as chaos ensued.
With that distraction Warren quickly reversed the car and looped around the figures. They immediately began firing, this time with luck. The Jeep swerved out of control and tipped onto its side, sliding a few feet. Kendra coughed and groaned, watching through blurry eyes as the figures ran towards them. "Warren!" She cried, seeing her cousin slumped over and not moving. Struggling to remove her seatbelt she watched with panic as they surrounded the vehicle. "Bracken?" She whispered. Nothing. "Get out now! We won't ask again!" She frantically tried to think but nothing came to mind. Giving in she replied, "I can't, I'm stuck."
Warren's door was slammed open and a flashlight beamed down. "We'll get him out first and then you. Don't try anything funny. We have your friend." She nodded. Using a knife they cut Warren's seat belt and pulled him out. The figure came back and reached his hand in holding a knife. He cut her belt too and then helped her out. She was tied up and the man, she could now see he was human, walked her towards the helicopter. Others carried Warren and searched the Jeep. Nearing the copter she saw Bracken tied up and gagged, staring at her anxiously. She was forced to her knees beside him, Warren was dumped next to her already bound. She couldn't tell if he was breathing but she could see the blood oozing from a spot in his back.
The man stepped in front of her, gun hanging loosely in his arm. "Now you're gonna come with us little missy or my men here will shoot your friends... again." "What do you want with me?" She asked. "Ah that's for my betters to say not me. Now get in." He grabbed her arm and hoisted her up painfully. Another figure came running up. "Sir we've lost track of air 2." This time it was a feminine voice. "The coms are all dead and visual was lost after it spun away." The leader grunted, "Any sign of what took it down?" "Yes sir...it's Him." A long pause. "Soldier get these two on the copter and take off now. High alert and shoot anything that moves. Use the level 10 rounds." "Understood sir."
Everyone shot into motion. Warren and Bracken were loaded up and the copter took off, hovering in the sky high above them. Figures jumped into position, surrounding her and the leader with guns pointing out. Sand whipped around until everything went still. No one moved, Kendra was held in the man's arm with a small crossbow in the other. Moments ticked by. The darkness pressed in all around, broken only by small lasers on the ends of their guns.
The sounds of the chopper faded, then returned with vigor. Over the leader's com came a crackle. "Soldier! Why aren't you following orders? I said get the prisoners out of here!" A staticky voice replied, "Sorry sir, there seems to be a problem with your orders." "And what would that be?" He shouted with force. "Well you told your soldiers to to fly these prisoners out of here? I'm afraid they all went unconscious before doing that." The leader gurgled, his eyes wide and unsure of how to respond. "So I just thought I'd return them for you." The helicopter dipped low and four bodies tied to a rope were flung out the side. They dangled like limp chickens just out of reach. Another voice spoke through the radio, Kendra hid her smile when she recognized Bracken. "You can have your men back when you give me my wife back."
At this the leader laughed, "I'll give this little prize back when you hand over the Demon's cold, dead body!" Silence. "What you don't like my terms? How about you come down here and we'll settle this like old times Seth." The helicopter jerked higher and a low voice spoke. "You sure you want to go there Dent? Been a long time since we sparred." Dent threw Kendra to a few soldiers who grabbed her and retreated a safe distance. "Oh I think I do Seth. I've been itching for a long time for this, learned a few new tricks too. You want the girl? Come and get her." He threw the radio down and readied his gun.
"Well alright then." Came Seth's voice directly behind them. Kendra jerked her head and Dent spun in confusion. Aiming his gun he fired rapidly at Seth. Dodging expertly Seth ran towards the leader, arms held back and leaning low. A few steps and a jump, Seth threw his arm forward and a black shape whipped towards the target. Dent blocked with his gun and the sound of metal on metal screeched in the air. Landing Seth moved his arm back and the black shape, which now could be seen as some kind of flying metal sword thing, moved with it.
Dent, throwing his gun, pulled out two long curved blades and the real fight began. Dust flew around the pair, distorting Kendra's view. Glimpses of the fight were seen as Seth and whoever the Dent guy was danced to the death on a whole different level. There was Dent throwing a deadly blow. Seth jumping around his target. Metal flashing, grunts and shouts ringing. What was happening? Who was winning?
Amid the chaos a body flew out and slammed heavily into the rocks. The soldiers, seeing it was their leader, tensed and shouted. Taking advantage of their distraction Kendra stomped on the left one's foot and smashed her head into the right one's face as he turned to look. The two tumbled back and Kendra broke free, running towards the fight. Shouts behind her indicated their swift recovery. Watching as Seth stepped from the dust cloud she shouted his name. His head turned and she saw something in his eyes, something dark and terrifying, but he blinked and it was gone. Nodding he gestured to keep running. She passed him and heard two shouts of pain but kept running.
Seth quickly caught up holding the fallen radio. Kendra panted, her weary legs struggling to keep balance on the rocky ground. More than once she tripped but a strong hand always pulled her up and they kept running. Towards the rocky pillars they went, the helicopter turning to follow. Seth spoke quickly into the radio, listened to the reply and spoke again. The chopper flew past them and dipped dangerously low to the ground. Seth grabbed Kendra around the waist and before she could breath jumped into the air.
She gasped as her brother expertly aimed for the open door and deposited her on the floor before shutting it behind him. Catching her breath Kendra noticed Warren strapped to a seat and looking rather pale. Bandages had been hastily bundled across his left shoulder and his forehead. Still unconscious his head lolled from the motions of the helicopter. Leaning into the front Seth spoke into a headset. Kendra could see Bracken struggling to use the controls but somehow keeping them on a straight course. From below came the sounds of more gunshots. Kendra quickly sat next to Warren and fastened her seat belt. Seth came back and peered questionly into her eyes. Nodding that she was alright she watched as he pushed back her hair a drew something on her brow that felt liquidy. Repeating his motions on Warren's face she saw it was some kind of dark liquid dripping from his fingers. The copter jumped as something hit the bottom. Kendra clenched her teeth, fear coursing through her. Why were these people so intent on getting her?
Her brother jumped into the front seat and strapped himself down. The pillars drew closer. It was a race now. A race of time and death. Kendra gripped her wounded cousin's hand and closed her eyes. More gunshots, more jerking in the air, until a final horrid screech of metal grinding and sliding against another hard surface. The jerking became worse, almost like they were tumbling and falling through the air. The steady whap of the chopper blades turn to terrible clangs and thumps. Keeping her eyes closed she wasn't even sure which way could've been up. A last groan of metal and then silence.
Kendra's entire body pulsed with pain. Bruises were forming where the straps were cutting into her and her head was pounding from the motions. Breathing in deeply she coughed as dust filled her lungs. Cracking open her eyes she gasped. The copter was on it's side and severely beat up. Cracks ran along the sides into the windows which were blown out. The entire top had been ripped off and the bottom was twisted out. A movement caught her attention. Her brother and Bracken were groaning as they slowly sat up and wearily peered around. "Hey guys." She coughed out. "Are you okay?" "I think so." Bracken gasped as he undid his strap and slid a bit. Turning he made his way over to her. "Are you okay?" He asked. She nodded and smiled, glad he was alive. Helping her out of her harness Bracken eased her to the wall that was now the floor.
Seth climbed back and helped lay Warren down. Working together they managed to escape the wreckage through the hole in the top. They were in some sort of narrow cave that continued past into the darkness that Kendra couldn't penetrate. The walls looked wet and shiny with colorful streaks running horizontal. Behind them was a solid stone wall. Helping the others salvage what they could Kendra packed a bag she found of food and medical supplies. Everything they brought with them was back in the Jeep. During this Bracken remained silent. Watching her husband Kendra worried, he had gone through a lot in this little bit, she couldn't imagine how he was feeling.
Sighing she turned back to Warren. Using her magic she managed to stop the bleeding and seal the hole. His eyelids fluttered and he coughed hoarsely. "What happened?" He asked weakly. Tying up the sling she smiled to reassure him. "You took a bullet and passed out." He swallowed and nodded. "Thought that's what it felt like. Where are we now?" Seth trotted over and dropped the bags. "We made it into the portal." He smiled. "Welcome to the rainbow road."