Why did it have to be a snake?
Why not something normal. Like werewolves. Trolls. Maybe dragons. A chimera would've been fine. Or a slimy lizard.
No, it just had to be a freaking, giant snake, sent by who knows, with a crave for human meat unlike the most rabid wolf. A quick glance over to my group mates made the lump in my throat just grow bigger.
Veronica was still beautiful. In fact, her beauty could be described as eternal – now. Truth to be told, she was a jewel. Literally. Hunching over my so-called uncle, in truth my sorcery master, who just lay a few feet from me, bleeding from a piercing wound that snake had given him. I couldn't tell if he was still alive or not, not from here anyway. That's right, I was the one holding back the giant reptile right now. Merlin's heir or not, I couldn't allow my friends to end as snake droppings, right?
Yeah, right, I wasn't sure about it either.
Less, as the thing pushed harder against the shield spell I was barely keeping up. The thought of Rebecka crossed my mind. It always did, when I was in trouble. Thinking of the girl I loved deeply made everything better. Balthazar had described it like that once; Love is the strongest magic. You can't resist it. He'd never been more right. The moment I saw Becky in front of my mental eye, I heard the snake hiss and saw it retreat with an angry spitting sound.
As it fled, so did my energy, and the ground hit my knees before I realised that it was me who'd just sunken down. Maybe I should've chased it down and get rid of it once and for all. But for that moment, I was just glad we survived that. Most of us, a voice in the back of my head noted, making me jump to my tired legs and run over to my companions. Relieve washed over me as I saw my master, unmoving as he was, glaring daggers at me and heard him mumble something unaudible, but by the tone of it, he'd be screaming and ranting at his stupid apprentice, who let the enemy run away, just like that. Look who's talking, the master of keeping-up-the-feud-with-your-archenemy-for-over-thousand-years! I felt a smile tug on my lips, as I offered the man my hand. Dragging him to his shaky legs, it was hard to miss the red puddle he left behind. What if that snake had bitten him bad enough and he'd die right under my eyes?
"I'm not THAT weak, Dave..", Balthazar grumbled, loud enough for me to hear and annoyed as hell, as he pushed past me, holding his impaled right side, grunting every second step and finally stopping at the wall of a building right at the corner of the street crossing we were on. Yep, right on the middle of one of New York's busiest streets! With nobody noticing anything. Hard feat to achieve when everyone fled from that snake..
"Are you coming or do I have to send you a personal invitation?", I heard my master call, his tone a sarcastic sneer, typical for him, but it made me look between him and his bejeweled wife, pointing helplessly at her. Balthazar didn't seem impressed, but sighed.
"Shrink her. I can't do it."
"Hurry up, Dave! Or do you want to answer the cops?"
"Enough with the 'but', get to work!"
Facing the stoned (no pun intended) sorceress, I raised my ringed hand, concentrated, cleared my mind, made a downwards movement, repeated it several times, with the figurine shrinking a few centimetres each time. When Veronica had about the size of a chess figurine, I took her in my hands, careful to not break off any part – Balthazar would kill me, if his wife ran around without, like, an arm or a leg – and put her into my pocket, before joining my wary master.
"Can you walk, man?"
"I thought we'd established I'm not that weak."
"Fine, alright, I get it, man."
"Then move it."
For our luck, the Phantom was closeby. One hell of a car it was, with a mind on it's own, anti-thievery enchantment and automatic engine start. Not to mention the powerful engine itself, that had even served in the worldwar II.. maybe not this particular one, but..
"Dave. Stop spacing out and get in!"
I did. And as I did, the door closed behind me with a WHUMP, making me flinch. Beside me, Balthazar had taken the steering wheel with both hands and mumbled something to the car, which sprung to life and growled bone quaking before speeding off, literally. We'd done dimension jumps before, sure, and there's nothing spectacular about it, really. Fine, you don't exactly see the enviroment around you, and you surely lose the feeling for time and room while you're between dimensions. But you can get used to it if your master is a thousand-twohundred year old sorcerer with the knick for such gimmicks. And fond of using them!
As we left the dimensional tunnel, we found ourselves in front of my underground laboratory. More exactly an old subway turnaround, but thanks to New York's university, I was allowed to use it for my, erm, experiments. About Tesla coils and creating sustainable plasma. And, since a few weeks, magic. Besides Becky, nobody knew of the latter. And if you asked Balthazar, that was a damn good thing. If the public knew of magic, it could become.. complicated? I never knew what he meant by that though.
I got out of the car and went a few steps towards the turnaround's entrance, when I noticed my mentor wasn't coming after me. Usually, he'd brush past me, hop down the stairs, leading to the main chamber, lit up the Merlin's Circle and prepare an ambush. For me. Of course. Not this time. I looked back and found him leaning against his car, holding his gold-locked head, staring at the ground. Could be a trick of the light, but I thought he was shaking.
"You okay, old man?"
"Who're you calling old?"
"You, man. You look like you're about to throw up or something."
"Charming idea. Let me write it down to my mental notice block. There, done."
"Very funny.", I said, then looked up to the cloudy sky and remarked "Let's go inside before we have to add 'visiting the doctor carrying pneumonia' to your list.."
That got me. Just 'fine'? Not a sharp-witted remark about stating the obvious or something? I just stared at the man, as he pushed off and slowly limped past me. He'd never been able to walk straight again after we attacked Morgana that night, always dragging that one leg slightly behind. Not visible if you didn't know about it, but obvious if you looked. Guilt washed over me. If I hadn't been late that night, he wouldn't have fought Horvath and wouldn't have gotten hit by some trashcan. He wouldn't limp like he did either. Plus he never blamed me, which annoyed me to no end. I rather get a good beating for making a mistake than having the problem sit in a dark corner, waiting for a chance to get back at me. Balthazar never had been the talkative type though, so many conflicts had been silenced to death. Still looking after the man, I found he'd stopped and glared back at me.
"Stop spacing out and come. We have work to do."
"Alright, alright, I'm coming. Don't bite me."
"Will do if you don't hurry up"
"Hahah-... ... OUCH! What did you do that for?!"
"Said I will."
"Too late for that, Dave. A few hundreds of years too late."
He probably was alright after all. For a man, who was limping badly and bleeding like a sliced up cow, Balthazar had been quick enough to get behind me and actually bite me! Rubbing my mistreated shoulder I grumbled some weak curse and followed my master, who had taken off to open the wardened door. A warden is a spell used to protect special places. You connect a certain feeling to the place, put some will behind it and activate the magic with some words. Only sorcerers equally or stronger than yourself could crack this kind of protection. Allies always can go through the barrier, taken they've been added to the 'whitelist'. Concerning this particular warden, Balthazar and I were the only people who'd been allowed to enter, ever since we beat Morgana.
We went down the stairs as usual. When I reached below though, I heard a heavy thump and the rusty squeaks of jumpers to the right and as I looked, I found my mentor, laying flat on the battered couch. I was about to say something, when I noticed something wasn't right. Of course it wasn't. Who'd be alright after being nearly bitten to death by a giant snake, right?
"Balthazar?", I whispered, as I softly stepped closer. No answer. It was foolish, but I decided not to stop. "Man, stop that, you're scaring me!"
"Get away", he said, nearly inaudible, so I didn't quite get it the first time. Only when the elder lashed out and nearly hit me with a big plasma bolt, I shrinked back.
"I said leave me alone!"
"What's wrong with you, man?! Just trying to help here!"
"Don't need help."
"Yes you do. At least let me treat your wound!"
"Don't bother, Dave."
"There must be a healing spell.."
"What do you mean, no?"
"No means, there is none. If healing was that easy of a task, Merlin wouldn't have died like a dog."
"I won't let you die, man."
"Hell you won't.", Balthazar snarled, tried to sit up and only snarled harder, when I pushed him back onto the couch. As I did, I noticed something else. The man was burning up with fever. And actually too weak to resist. Not much of a good sign from a man who'd usually do some crazy stuff like levitating his enemies against the ceiling or throw them into a mirror to have them locked up in it. If just Veronica was here..
That's it, I thought, Veronica! Fumbling in my pocket I fished out her little figurine, carefully, and put it into the old man's hands. It was taken very gently, but he said nothing, just took a few shaky breaths, definitely sounding painful.
I went to fetch my first-aid kit from the locker room. Even wounds caused by magical beings had to be desinfected and dressed, right? If we were lucky, the anti-fever drugs hadn't expired yet either. We were. Hurrying I carried the tool box back and what do I tell you? The couch was empty. Frowning I looked around, just to find Balthazar stand shaking in the circle, lighting it up until the green flames lit all of the alchemical signs, decorating the ground. Then something dropped into them and the flames shot up a little, turned brightly red before returning to green once again.
"Dave", Balthazar said, loud enough for me to cleary hear it. "Get me a knife."
"Yes. Those metal things with a sharp edge and a plastic handle."
"I do happen to know what a knife is, thanks a lot. Why?"
"Don't ask. Just do it."
"Er.. okay.. I guess.."
Doing as I was told, I got the required tool, the lump in my throat growing tighter with each moment. It reached a gruesome peak when I reached out to give the knife to Balthazar before stepping back.
The next thing would be burned into my memories for quite a long time. The man raised the knife and held it to his right wrist, taking in even, calm breaths. Then a quick jerk and blood splattered from the open wound. As he collapsed onto the floor, feeding his blood to the flames, I tried to rush over to my master, but the flames angrily kept me at distance, flickering between green and red all the while. I called to my master, but he didn't move, or speak, his unfocused eyes staring at the flames.
When they finally died down, I jumped over them and rushed to the old man's side. To my relief, he was still breathing. Gasping for air maybe, but breathing nonetheless. When he glanced up at me, I felt a grin tug at my features. It vanished as fast as it came. I hadn't noticed before, but now that I saw it, I was at a loss of words. The little figurine, representing Veronica, had disappeared. Balthazar had been holding onto it all the time, I just know he did. But where was it now?
"England.", said a voice close to my ear, which made me jump aside – squeaking.
"Don't do that, man!"
"Don't space out, Dave."
"Besides, what do you mean? England?"
"The spell sent her back to where her heart wishes her to be. What you saw was a blood offering. It's the absolute last measure you should ever take to fix things."
"Veronica should be back to normal by now. The poison is gone. We can start training right now."
"Are you sure about that? With all the blood loss and so.."
"Well, you're the apprentice who has to sharpen their skills, aren't you? I'm just the supervising mentor after all. I will sit back and watch you power yourself out."
"Let's swap. I sit down and you do the hard work for a change!"
"Nice try. Come. You need to work on that shield of yours."