A young couple takes a hike on the Appalachian Trail that leads to the resurrection of an ancient evil. The rise of the Magus signals the return of forgotten powers to the world, and one man will rise to stem the growing tide of evil.


17. Elemental Force

“So you’re telling me that Derrick, my friend, went berserk, left his post upstairs, followed you both down here, knocked one of you out, and dragged the other into the linen closet to rape you?  Why?  Can either one of you ladies tell me that?  What did you do to him?”

            Sarah was suddenly angry.  What was it with some men?  They always assumed that the woman that got attacked had it coming.  Well, she knew beyond any doubt that she had done nothing to deserve being bashed in the head, and she had no intention of sitting still while some cop accused the two of them of causing their current mess.  Sarah and Amy were being held in a conference room for questioning, and her worry for John was only adding to her irritation since every second that the police cost her was another second that John was fighting for his life without her help.  “Who said we did anything to him?  Why are you acting like we’re the bad guys here?  I certainly didn’t ask to be attacked, and I know she didn’t do anything to provoke him, unless you count escorting me down here to get away from him.  From what I saw while I was up there, your officer was already making a nuisance of himself when I showed up.”

            “Oh, come on.  I’ve known Derrick for five years, ever since he became a cop.  He’s never acted out of the way to anyone in all that time, so what set him off?”

            “I told you I don’t know!”  Yelling made pain blast through her head again, but she used the pain to fuel her growing anger.  “Why are you holding me?  I told you I didn’t do anything, and neither did Amy.  What more do you want from us?”  Sarah was getting desperate.  For all she knew, the monster that she had come here to slay could have finished his work with John by now.  She needed to find out, and she also needed to keep the police from looking in her purse.  If they found John’s gun, there would be more questions at the very least, and she was afraid they would hold her on a concealed weapons charge to give themselves more time to look for any wrongdoing concerning the death of their officer.

            “Ma’am, calm down.”

            “Don’t tell me to calm down.  My head hurts, you idiot.  It hurts because one of your officers got too horny to help himself and I was in his way when he came looking for Amy.  So you either charge me with something, or you let me go.  And what are you going to charge me with, ‘Obstruction of Rape’?”

            The officer looked at her for a long moment.  Finally he said, “Okay, let me check with my superiors.  If they say to cut you loose, then you’ll be free to go.”  He turned away from Sarah and talked into the microphone that was clipped to the shoulder of his uniform.

            “Thank you.”  Sarah turned to Amy.  “Are you going to be okay?”

            Amy’s face was still wearing the dull look of shock that she had been wearing when she walked out of the linen closet.  “I don’t know.  I guess so.”  A tear spilled from her eye and rolled slowly down her cheek.  “I’ve never killed anyone, you know?”

            “I understand.  I don’t know what happened.”

            “Me neither.  I was polite to him, but I wasn’t leading him on.  And I was never even rude to him.”  Amy’s chin dropped to her chest and she began to sob quietly as the reality of all that had happened to her finally broke through her shock. 

Sarah leaned forward and pulled Amy into a hug.  “It’s okay.  I know you didn’t do anything wrong.  And they will too.  You’ll be okay.  Trust me.”  Amy continued to sob into Sarah’s shoulder for a moment until the policeman that was questioning the two ladies interrupted them.

“I’m sorry.  The watch commander said we have to take a written statement from both of you.  Until then, you’re not going anywhere.”

Sarah bit back a hot reply.  When she had her temper mostly under control she said, “Okay, so what do I need to do?”


Lieutenant Mike Donovan was the watch commander for the day for the Asheville Police Department.  Asheville was usually a fairly quiet city, especially on a Monday, and he had been looking forward to having a relaxing day at the office.  The watch commander was rarely required to leave the station during his shift, but when an officer had been killed, he could not just sit in the office.  And that was how Lt. Donovan found himself turning into the parking lot of St. Joseph’s on a sunny Monday afternoon.

As he pulled into the lot, he saw that somehow a news van was already waiting at the front entrance to the hospital, so at his first opportunity, he turned away from the main entrance and headed towards the emergency entrance.  He had no desire to deal with journalists on the best of days, and this looked to be far from the best of his days.  He located a parking place that was farther from the emergency room doors than he would have liked, but it was still the closest one available, so he pulled into the spot, turned off the ignition and climbed out of the car.

As he approached the entrance to the hospital, Donovan noticed something that seemed a bit odd to him.  A young woman leaned out of the emergency room door and glanced around before allowing the door to close in front of her.  He had parked just around the corner from the emergency room doors, so the young lady’s eyes had missed his approach. 

Donovan had been a cop for over 15 years, and in that time he had been given many opportunities to study human behavior.  It took him a moment to place just what had seemed odd about the woman’s behavior, but as he continued walking towards the door, he figured it out.  There should have been no need to actually open the door and look around unless you were trying to avoid someone.  The doors to the emergency room were metal, but there was a wide durable window in each door to enable people that were moving in a hurry to see if anyone was in the way as the double-hinged doors were opened.  Donovan’s policeman’s instinct (an instinct that he jokingly referred to as his spider sense) began to send out warning signals.  As he began to close his distance to the doors, his right hand drifted to the butt of his pistol and unsnapped the holster.  With the pistol readied for easy access, the warning signals quieted a little, and he hooked his thumb in the belt just forward of his holster.

            When Donovan was only a few steps from the corner that he would need to turn to enter the emergency room doors, the doors were flung open from inside and an odd trio of people emerged from the hospital.  The same young woman that Donovan had spotted earlier was leading the way.  A young man was pushing a patient in a wheelchair just behind the young lady, but it was the patient that captured the officer’s full attention.  The patient was wearing ill-fitting clothing that had obviously never been intended for his frame, but the clothes were a minor detail when compared to the damage that was showing on all of the patient’s exposed skin.  This man obviously needed further medical care, so why were the two young people removing him from the hospital?  Donovan’s hand closed around the grip of his pistol and he said, “Hey, hold it right there.”

            The young lady spun about in alarmed surprise, and she was so obviously afraid that her face was nearly a comic book caricature of fright.  The young man wrestled the wheelchair to a halt and turned partially to face the voice that had interrupted their flight.  But the faces of both youngsters faded into the background as the man in the wheelchair turned his face towards Donovan.  Icy blue eyes regarded the officer where he stood giving his commands and Donovan could feel the evil and anger radiating from those eyes.

            The next few moments were seared into Donovan’s memories for the rest of his life.


            With a painful motion that only served to fuel his anger, Maraydel raised his arm to gesture at the policeman.  He began to mutter in the same strange tongue that Danny had heard him use before and sparks began to dance across the seared fingertips of his hand before coalescing into a ball of electric blue energy in the palm of his hand.  As Maraydel raised the hand in what appeared to be a throwing gesture Danny realized that he was about to watch a policeman die.

            Something in Danny snapped and as Maraydel’s arm began to fly forward, he leapt between the policeman and the magus.  The ball of electricity that was meant for the policeman struck Danny directly in the center of the back, and he felt himself lifted from his feet and hurled through the air.  He was dimly aware of narrowly missing the officer as he sailed by the man to land on the hood of a Ford Mustang where it was parked in the parking lot.

            Donovan stood in momentary shock at what he had just witnessed, and the hesitation nearly cost him his life.  The brave young man that had just flown by him was lying on the red hood of the Mustang with smoke rising from his clothing.  He turned back towards the apparent source of the electricity that had sent the young man flying just in time to see the man in the chair raising his arm once more.  He leapt to his left and placed the brick corner of the hospital between himself and his unknown assailant.  Just as he reached the cover of the building, his hair stood on end, a smell of ozone filled the air, and shards of shattered brick exploded from the corner where he had just taken cover.

            Carol was rooted in place as a mixture of emotions overrode her brain’s commands to do something.  Anger, despair, misery, terror, and hatred all warred within her mind.  She was snapped from her paralysis by the sight of something that she would never have deemed possible only a few days before.

            To her right, across the sidewalk from where the policeman had approached, a crow flapped its way to earth.  To see one of the black birds approach so closely at any time would have been strange, but to have one land so nearby when balls of lightning were being tossed around was unimaginable.  Her surprise became outright astonishment as she continued watching the bird, because before her eyes it began to change.  The form of the bird expanded and flowed into a new form, and suddenly the shape of the man that had escaped from her master in the woods was standing on the lawn behind the magus.

            Maraydel had not seen the arrival of the crow, so when he turned to Carol with an order on his lips, he was surprised to see her staring in open-mouthed astonishment at something behind him.  The wheelchair was unfamiliar to him, and he was not yet sufficiently recovered for the effort that it would take to wrestle the chair around, so he cast his mind behind him instead.  And finally Maraydel knew what it was to be truly afraid.

            John Raintree had been so consumed with the task of getting to the hospital that he had given little thought to what he would do when he got there.  He certainly had not expected to see his enemy hurling lighting at people from the sidewalk outside the emergency room.  He was still learning the extent of his powers and had never tried to use them offensively before, so he was somewhat at a loss regarding how to proceed.  His hesitation gave Maraydel the time he needed.

            “Move you idiot.  Turn me to see him.”  Maraydel reinforced the words with his powerful mind, and Carol was powerless to resist.  Tears of frustration and misery coursed down her face, but she was compelled by the force of Maraydel’s will, so she dashed behind his wheelchair and spun it around to face John.

            John saw what was coming with barely a second to spare.  As soon as Maraydel’s eyes fixed on him, the magus was again raising his arm to throw more lightning.  John reached out to the world around him, and as the lightning was released, the ground between the two enemies heaved upwards.  Where a moment before there had been a well-manicured lawn, a wall of grassy earth stood at shoulder height between the two bitter foes and the lightning splashed harmlessly against that wall.  The rapid rearrangement of the soil in the area caused the ground to heave beneath his feet, and John was tumbled to his back behind the defensive fortification that he had so hastily erected.

            Mike Donovan risked a glance around the corner and saw Carol dragging the wheelchair backwards down the sidewalk.  He started to yell for the pair to stop where they were, but memories of what had happened the last time he gave that command stilled his tongue.  Instead he braced himself against the building and aimed carefully at the figure seated in the wheelchair.  The distance was rapidly increasing and he knew that if he wanted a decent shot, he had to fire immediately so he paused his breathing and squeezed the trigger.

            Blood sprayed from Maraydel’s left shoulder and Carol winced in pain as she felt a fiery line traced across her side.

            Donovan growled in frustration as he realized that his shot had been too high and had missed the heart.  His frustration turned to sudden fear as the eyes of the madman in the wheelchair settled once more on his face.  Donovan ducked further behind the corner as another blast of lightning flew past his head and plowed into his police cruiser.  The lightning left bright spots dancing in his vision, and he knew that he would never be able to see well enough to take another shot in time, so he decided that discretion was the better part of valor.  He flattened himself on the ground and hoped that the next bolt would not burn him where he was hiding.

            John rolled to his feet as he saw the blast of lightning blow past the corner of the building where he had heard the shot ring out.  He looked over the earthen barrier he had created and saw Maraydel and Carol still struggling towards the parking lot.  Blood was flowing from the wizard’s shoulder, but his eyes were still vitally blue and alive.  Carol was in obvious pain, but her wound seemed to be giving her little trouble as she quickly rolled the wheelchair away from the hospital.

            When Maraydel saw the shaman looking over the top of the barrier at him, he knew that he needed to get away.  The raw power that he was handling was too exhausting for his damaged body to handle for long, and he knew that soon he would be defenseless, so he cast a spell that he had rarely ever needed to use. 

            Before John’s eyes, a wall of fire appeared and roared towards him.  He ducked back behind the barrier that he had made and the fire roared across the top of the barrier to splash harmlessly from the brick wall of the hospital behind him.  An inferno raged overhead and the heat made sweat appear on his skin, but the fire never touched him.

            For long moments the fire raged overhead.  Finally, it ceased.  John took a quick mental inventory of himself and waited for another moment to be sure the fire had really passed.  At long last he pushed himself to his feet and looked over the barrier once more.

            The grass of the lawn where the battle had raged was gone.  Only a fine gray ash remained where the grass had been, and the earth beneath was blackened and cracked.  John was relieved to see that the fire had been directed mostly at him, and the grass near the corner where his unknown ally had been firing was only yellowed instead of burned completely away.  John turned his eyes back to the parking lot where Maraydel had been, but he was unsurprised to see that the magus and his helper were nowhere to be seen.  His eyes continued to take in the devastation before him for a long moment until his gaze settled on the smoking figure of the young man that had saved the policeman.  He was afraid of what he would find, but he forced himself to run to the young man’s aid.  Maraydel would have to wait for another day.

            When John reached the young man’s side, he was surprised to find that he was alive and even moaning weakly.  Danny’s shirt was burned through in several places on his back and the soles of his sneakers both had large holes where the electricity had arced through his body and into the ground below.  As Danny began to struggle weakly to turn over, John placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder and told him, “Shh.  Lie still.  We’ll get you some help, but for now, lie still.”

            “Carol.  I have to help…”  Danny’s words trailed away into another moan of pain, and John was afraid that the young man was going to injure himself further, so he did the only thing he could think of to do.  John sent a soothing energy down his arm to the hand that was on Danny’s shoulder.  He felt the energy tingle as it left his palm and poured into the young man, and Danny lapsed into a restful sleep.

            John’s attention was pulled away from Danny by a sharp tap on his shoulder.  He turned to see a police officer standing in a grass-stained uniform behind him.  The officer’s hair was standing on end and he kept blinking tears away from his obviously irritated eyes.

            “Is he alive?”  The officer obviously had more questions, but John was pleased to see that the man had a good sense of his priorities.

            “He seems to be, but we need to get him some help.  I’ll stay here with him if you’ll run inside and get a doctor.”  The officer seemed on the verge of saying something, but he glanced at the parking lot behind John and something there seemed to sway him to go along with John for the moment.  He turned on his heel and trotted towards the emergency room.

            John turned back towards Danny and the parking lot and quickly understood the officer’s sudden helpfulness.  Two news vans were screeching to a halt behind the Mustang and reporters with cameramen were jumping from their vehicles to move towards him.

            John thought briefly of turning into a crow again and flying away, but he shook his head, sighed, and waited to meet the scrutiny of the media monster.  One thing was certain.  There was absolutely no way he could tell the truth to these reporters.


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