Bravely clashing her sword against her opponent’s, Syrene Pectar’s feet slid, and she fought to maintain her balance. Her opponent swung his sword down, and she just dodged it by leaping back, pausing only to wipe a bead of sweat off her brow. She thrust her sword toward her attacker. His met hers and they grinded against each other for a moment before Syrene pulled her weapon away and smashed it at his legs instead. He stepped back, holding his sword at an angle to defend himself. Syrene charged, hurling her sword down on her opponent’s, bringing it to point at the floor. She held him as long as she could, gritting her teeth from the strain. She released his weapon and stepped back. Now was her chance. This was the time. As Syrene’s sword struck his, a loud bang echoed throughout the base, ringing in her ears. The two weapons felt as though they had taken on each other’s weights, and Syrene groaned when she saw the blades were welded together.
“Delta!” she snapped, letting her sword fall from her grasp, sending her opponent stumbling as the weight of both weapons fell into his grip. “I told you to keep your experiments away from my training exercises!”
“Sorry,” Delta replied with a twinkle in her eye. “I thought I’d even out the odds and help.”
Syrene rolled her eyes and turned away from the thirteen year old FadithRider to face her opponent. “Good match Winter. I have to find my glits, I’m going glitter drifting with Ari. We’ll talk later?”
“Sure,” he agreed. “What’s glitter drifting?”
“A sport for elves,” she replied, searching through the equipment room in the FadithRiders’ training center. “You wear the warmest clothes you have, tie a plank of wood to each foot, those are called glits, you have two branches in each hand, and then you ski down the mountain.”
“Qasdre Mountain, of course. Imagine glitter drifting down the Efousiam mountains! Kingdoms,” she smiled, shaking her head.
“Shouldn’t you stay with us to help decipher the code from the book?” Winter asked innocently, his blue-green eyes locking with her ice blue ones.
“I’m sure you and the others can figure it out.”
Winter tilted his head. “Syrene, you don’t have to leave right now. We all know Willow is the fastest dragon here, in the FadithRiders’ base. That means something.”
“She is amazing,” Syrene agreed, “but I already have plans for today.”
“We need you here.” The FadithRider glanced at the ground.
Syrene sighed. “Alright, I’ll stay and help if next time you come glitter drifting with me and Ari,” she said, her mind drifting to the elf who helped her on her quest to defeat the Lake of Fire.
“Alright,” he agreed, smiling. “Come on.”
The two walked beside each other silently before arriving at a door. Syrene turned the handle and entered.
Three people glanced her way.
“Good afternoon Blade, Delta, and Scythe. Winter, can you get me a syl? I need to write Ari to tell her today doesn’t work. Where’s Jaclyn?”
“She went back to Efousiam as a spy, undercover because obviously yeah, she’s a spy,” blurted Scythe, hurrying to answer the question. “She was a little bit lot nervous about it, but she’ll be fine,” he ended, trying to add a touch of reassurance.
“Aye, she’ll do good,” Blade added in a funky western pirate accent, looking up at his twin sister. His brown-black hair, different from his sister’s blue, looked as though it hadn’t been cared for yet that day. His pale blue eyes hovered curiously on Syrene. He glanced from her to Winter, then back again. “What did he say to convince you this time?” the former Efousiam knight asked with a hint of amusement, never once dropping the accent, which he claimed to be using to develop voice disguise.
Syrene ignored him. “The sooner we solve the code, the sooner we find the last hidden rival.” Her hand darted to the locket that hung from her neck on a thin silver chain. Recently, Ari had given it to her, knowing Syrene was meant to protect the three hidden rivals: The Locket of Appearance, the Sword of Light, and one more that remained unknown. Bumping against the locket was a dashing green jewel, one she had stolen right off Queen Emerald’s crown. She wore it because she was proud . . . and it did have a habit of carving poems onto itself, which was both helpful and unhelpful at the same time.
“Yes, and before my father finds it first! He awoke the Lake of Fire with the first rival, the sword!” Scythe nearly shouted, his brown hair whipping around his face. His choice of clothing, the most elf-like in the group, began with a forest colored tunic, a dark red sash, and a quiver of arrows that was held on his back.
“We know,” Syrene sighed. “We were there.”
“Oh right . . . you were,” the Efousiam prince replied, his expression thoughtful, as though he was only just putting pieces together. “That makes sense.”
Delta tossed her shoulder length brown hair over her shoulder. “Here’s the code,” she said, pointing to the book.
Syrene squinted at the paper. “It faded.”
“It’s been two months since it appeared, so of course it faded,” Scythe reminded her.
“Seze,” Syrene whistled, calling her friend, a little water dragon. Seze flew through a high window and landed on Syrene’s shoulder, shaking himself happily as if he had just received a bath.
Syrene concentrated, all focus and thought on her power, then opened her hand. Fire appeared in her grasp but didn’t burn her. She scattered sparks on the page and Seze immediately breathed water droplets on it afterward. Syrene held the page up to the sunlight pouring through the roof.
The words on the page became darker.
“Look for anything. Patterns, words spelled backwards, anything,” Syrene said.
The friends studied the page for a moment.
“All I see is ‘no sense,’ ‘random,’ and ‘what’?” Scythe complained.
“A few lines rhyme!” Blade exclaimed. “Vice ice, yepp pep, and rat sat.”
“Right, I knew that,” Scythe quickly corrected himself, nodding heartily.
“And look,” Syrene added, “vice has the word ice in it.” She thought for a minute. “Yepp has pep in it, rat and sat both have at in them.”
“So . . . what does that mean?” Scythe asked, his brow furled in confusion.
“It means don’t move!” a voice barked from the doorway. Maloster, the king of Efousiam, entered the room. In one swift motion he drew an arrow, had his eight winged green-fire keep dragon breathe a plume of fire to light the arrowhead, and loaded the crossbow. “I order you to tell me where the rival is,” he said menacingly, aiming the crossbow directly at Syrene’s head.
Frozen, they stared at him an awkwardly silent moment.
“How did you find us?” Scythe whimpered, melting in the presence of his father.
“My dragon, Clodu, tracked you down. It did take a couple months, but here we are.” Maloster’s eyes gleamed. “In the middle of something very important, I assume?” He smirked when Scythe looked at his feet, but his rage returned quickly. “You know how I got here, now give me what I came for! Tell me where the last hidden rival is!” He lunged forward, grabbed the collar of Syrene robe, and lifted her off the ground.
She gasped, clawing at his hands, desperate for air. This was no training match. This was real. The hands on her throat were real. She felt her eyes widen as she continued to struggle against him.
“Very well,” he said, ice dripping from his command. Before anyone could act, he snatched what looked like a handful of electrified indigo powder from his pocket, and struck Syrene with it.
Winter lunged forward and caught her as she collapsed. Syrene could see him in a blur, but soon all she could see was darkness. She could, however, still hear.
“Kingdoms, argh!” Maloster swore. “What is happening?”
Something small hit the floor, like a shard of a jewel, and by the King’s outrageous tone, Syrene wondered if it had vanished into thin air.
“It vanished into thin air!”
Syrene tried to smile, but found she couldn’t.
“What did you do to her!?” Winter demanded.
“Simply made her less of a problem, Mr. Rivkibe, by cancelling her powers for a certain length of time. Do not waste your energy worrying about her, young man.”
“You can’t take her!” Delta cried, taking a defensive stand beside her brother.
“She will be returned as soon as she tells me what I want to know,” Maloster explained almost boredly.
“She doesn’t know! None of us do!” Blade added.
Maloster seemed uninterested by their attempts and Syrene suspected that he waved off their mini rebellion with a hand. “Now now,” he began. “Let’s compromise! You tell me the location of the last hidden rival, I forgive Pectar of all crimes, and leave her here! It’s simple! All you have to do is tell me. What will it be?”
“We don’t know w-where it is!” Delta told him, her voice cracking with shocked anger.
“Then you have made your choice. Although I did expect more from you, Scythe.” He shook his head. “I suppose the worst disappointment for a father is an unworthy son.”
“Wait!” a voice called out. “I’ll go with her! Take us both.”
“No Blade, don’t!” Delta pleaded.
He spoke softly, “I have to. I can’t just let him take her without doing anything to prevent it. We can get the remaining jewels of tears from Quemy’s crown.”
No Blade, Syrene thought drowsily. Fight him!
“Very well,” came the haunting voice. “You are coming with me.”
* * *
A voice that reached no ear spoke. A voice as old and as young as time, a rumbling noise, which made this speaker sound like it was muttering from a distance.
“Tukamong hunt . . . Tukamog find . . . Tukamog kill . . .”