On the Bookshelf: The Index: Mages

Excerpt from The Index, Book 1: Mages

“Arri!”


Green
eyes glanced over to the door and a slim, graceful hand reached out
to flick a casual finger in that direction. The door swung open to
show Kari in her usual purple-and-blue robes. Her hair was slightly
damp, indicative of a recent shower.


“Any
news?” Arriella asked.


“Not
that we know of. We’ve heard of some minor energetic disturbances,
but that was nothing,” she shrugged and shut the door behind
herself as she walked in. “We’ve had people from all over
checking in.”


“Any
signs of our friends?” she asked, her voice losing its business
tone for a moment.


Kari
knew that she meant the twins, Shourron II and Makkian, but she shook
her head. “No traces. Sorry.”


For
the slightest of seconds, Arriella looked crestfallen – just long
enough for Kari to notice.


“I
wouldn’t doubt that they’re here, if it helps,” she said
quietly. “I know you want to see them.”


“That
I do. But what I want and what needs to be done are to remain
separate until further notice.”


“Noted.
I should perhaps tell you, the lesser disturbances were caused by the
more desperate attempting a dimensional breach.”


This
made Arriella perk up and pay attention.


Most
of them are way under my caliber, very few rank at mine or above,”
she mused and cringed when she realized the actual implications. “How
many close calls?”


“Too
many. Twenty in the first few hours after the unlocking alone. No
casualties.”


A
sudden knock on the door made both women start.


“Enter!”
Arriella called, irritated.


“Arri!”
Another man, by looks no older than either of the two women, was at
the door, gasping for air. “You…You have to see this!”


“Okay,
okay,” Kari helped him onto one of the rickety twin beds as
Arriella unfurled herself from the other, concerned. “Sahr, you
want to be specific about this.”


It
took a while until Sahr was able to regain his breath; the world that
he was from had a different air composition, one slightly more
oxygenated than that of Earth. Apparently, he ran from whatever his
prior location was to the Bowery and the lower oxygenation, coupled
with running like the wind – considering his element type,
literally so – did not do him much good.


“From
the top,” Arriella said slowly, reaching over to her boots and
slipping them on as she got up. “What happened?”


“One
of mine…We found him dead a minute ago.”


Where?”
Kari asked, rising from the bed.


“Central
Park, by the lake.”


The
Seeress gasped. “In public?!”


Sahr
nodded.


Arriella,
however, was perplexed. More than her having no idea what caused them
all to come out of dormancy, having some of their hastily-assembled
troops turn up dead just did not compute.


Her
last few missions, not just that of the Jemerian civil war, all
consisted of the associates of the High Mage trying to get a base
planet to restart the takeover operations that their leader had
abandoned upon his sealing. On each world, the people of that planet
would be the ones that would suffer first. It wasn’t until part of
the population was indoctrinated that the troops – whether
Cosmic-ordered or planet-specific – would suffer any losses.


As
such, the Earth-bound troops’ having their first loss before even
one suspicious human incident was puzzling.


Inside
job, possibly? One of ours?


No,
didn’t seem likely. She knew and got to know everyone staying and
gathering at the Bowery Hotel and turned it into the perfect
makeshift command center. Everyone that came on business usually
arrived because they knew that this is where she was or had a friend
in the area. There were no grudges to be had around here, especially
with the victim.


“Arri?”
Kari’s voice brought Arriella out of her meanderings.


“I’m
on it,” she said shortly and promptly leapt out the second-floor
window, landing lightly on her feet on the pavement below. Kari and
Sahr exchanged looks and followed the same way.


The
trip uptown was shorter than one would expect. Sahr carried Kari with
little effort and Arriella ran at her full speed without restraint.
They reached Central Park quickly enough and before long, found the
body of a Fire Hunter, a foot platoon leader from Arriella’s
earlier missions.


Arriella
shook her head, dismayed, and knelt down by the body.


“One
strike,” she said as she pointed out the sizable hole in his shirt
that revealed a black scorch mark over his chest. “He took quite
the hit. Close range.”


“Did
he put up a fight?” Sahr asked.


Arriella
looked around; the ground around them was devoid of grass and in some
places, the dirt was littered with fine ash, undoubtedly from
incinerated trees.


“No
doubt…” she said. “But apparently, it wasn’t good enough.”


Sahr
nodded. “Look at the way he fell and the trees behind him. They’re
burnt to a crisp and…”


“…Not
by fire,” Arriella finished.


As
the three simple words escaped her lips, she fought down a cold dread
rising up in her stomach. This was more than what she cared to
acknowledge; the dead Hunter was someone that was all of one class
lower than herself in power rank. Thus, he was strong enough to
handle most normal threats and almost none of those normal threats
were fireproof. This was
not
a
normal threat. The High Mage’s associates were not usually that
original. Their leader, potentially, but he’s…


“Kari…”


The
Seeress turned to Arriella and immediately froze at the look in her
eyes. “You cannot be serious, woman.”


“I
need to see what happened here.”


“Not
even if some of us,” a pointed look to Sahr, “don’t want to see
it?”


“Never
said I didn’t,” Sahr noted, oblivious to the hint. “Kari,
really, this might explain a lot of things.”


Kari
noticed Arriella’s glare and nodded, outnumbered. “You guys know
what to do.”


Arriella
grasped Sahr by the forearm and took Kari’s hand. The Seeress
flared her aura in short bursts of pale pink as she searched for
residual traces of the decedent’s energy, which she had no doubt
that he left behind.


And
sure enough, there they were. The traces left behind were a deep gray
that echoed of fire and they were closely intertwined with a powerful
black energy that they were unfamiliar with.


Slowly,
Arriella’s eyes drifted shut.


Instantly,
she found herself in a rebuilt vision of the past; it was dusk in the
park and she barely felt Kari’s hand on hers; nor did she pay much
mind to Sahr’s forearm trembling slightly, the only sign of his
fear.


Something
bad happened here,”

Sahr noted telepathically as the events of a few hours ago unfolded
in front of them.
“I
don’t like this feeling.”


Arriella
squeezed his forearm in a brief gesture of understanding.


“What
the—NO!”


The
would-be-victim leapt aside and the black blast missed him by a
matter of inches.


“You
know where he is.”


The
voice that spoke was melodious, soft and even, but there was a
certain lethal malice in the cadence that made Arriella shiver, even
as a third-party observer. His hair and eyes were black; his outer
robe was black with silver fastenings and he was very distinctly
powerful.


“What
the blazes makes you think I’ll tell you if I did?!”


He
rushed forward with a powered punch and the two men engaged in a
series of attack combinations that were almost too fast for her to
see. Soon, though, the young Hunter was catapulted backwards and when
he forced himself back up, he had a cut lip.


The
other man was untouched.


He’s
familiar,

Arriella thought and instantly started sifting through the archives
of her memory.
He’s
familiar and in more than just one way; I’ve seen him before…


“I
get what I ask for, whelp,” he half-hissed and flung a wide arc of
black energy that shoved the young man into the lake.


He
stopped short of the water and launched himself forward again, this
time with a plume of fire in each hand.


“You—”
Every word was punctuated by a punch, “will not – get – your
hands – on him!”


The
blast of fire that the victim released at the last word knocked his
attacker into a tree, charring it and several other trees behind him.
The tops of the trees came down in a haze of stiff branches, burying
the man in a pile of debris.


He
finished his original thought when the dust settled.


“Not
if it’s the last thing I do.”


The
pile of wooden debris shifted slightly and the Hunter paid no mind as
he straightened up and walked away from the lake banks…


…only
to walk headfirst into his attacker, who stood unhurt, unscathed and
stared him straight in the eye.


The
wood debris were nowhere to be seen, but a fine ash littered the area
where the pile once lay.


“Last
thing you do?” he said, his voice a malicious purr. “That can be
arranged.”


In
a split second, he grasped the young man by the shirtfront and
blasted him point-blank, his free hand directly against his victim’s
heart. The victim did not have a chance to scream as the blast
engulfed him whole and hit the trees behind him.


The
man righted his robes and turned to survey the area, as though he
knew that the Hunter did something before he died. Sure enough, there
were traces of gray everywhere and they lingered, standing out
brightly against the normal, barely-there energies of other life in
the area; a fatality trail.


He
knew that he wasn’t going to come out of this alive,

Arriella and Sahr thought simultaneously, familiar with the
technique. This skill was not limited to just Hunters among the
energetic spectrum; if they thought that they weren’t going to come
back alive, they left a trail of energy behind that captured the
events of the area or, if they saw fit, would lead whoever came to
investigate where they had gone to their end. Should the person
survive, the trail dissipated after a few days.


Nearly
all fighters had gone on missions where a trail of this variety was
necessary. In the case of Arriella and the brothers, it was only
their skill and luck that kept them alive, but this was the first
time Arriella ever needed to analyze one.


The
man knew that the fatality trail existed as well, for in the
reproduction of the events, he turned in their precise direction.


Now
that he was facing her, she figured out where she had seen him
before. In fact, she saw some of his features – the straight nose,
the strong jaw and high forehead – very frequently in her twin best
friends. They were close for so many years that she no longer gave
thought to their origins, until now.


“The
High Mage.”


The
words slipped out of her mouth on a shocked reflex, a thought
whispered aloud without the realization that they were spoken.
Although she was in an energetic reproduction of the events, the High
Mage likely knew that this would be seen. He looked her straight in
the eye and his lips, uncannily similar to his sons’ in shape,
curved into a cold smile before he teleported out.


The
shocked looks on her companions’ faces told Arriella that they too
knew who he was.


“We’re
in trouble,” Sahr said simply.


And
how,

Arriella thought.


The Index Series is available at CreateSpace: Mages | Secrets  and Amazon: Mages | Secrets

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