Prelude

The young man stood near the window, staring out into the night. It was almost midnight, that time when magiks run the deepest. Outside inverted crosses burned, illuminating the minions of the dark that surrounded them. They were chanting incantations and pressing against the wards set by the sorcerers, trying vainly to bypass the powerful magiks. Even through the protective shields surrounding the house, he could feel the massive evil emanating from the black-robed cultists.

A hand rested on his shoulder lightly, gently squeezing. "Are you ready?" The deep voice came from behind him.

The young man turned slowly from the window to face the white-robed man behind him. Gray-bearded and scar-faced with a hood covering his head, the old man leaned against the ash staff he wielded. Concerned eyes searched the younger man's expressionless face.

"No." the young man said quietly. He looked over the old man's shoulder at the group of young disciples preparing the powders and candles for the upcoming spell. Older sorcerers aided them, advising them as needed, acting as if this was just another lesson and not the last lesson they would ever give or the disciples ever learn. Six people, five just a little younger then he, the last much younger--too young--stood clustered nearby, waiting for him. "There must be another way. . .something we can do here, now. . ." He caught the look in the old man's eye. "This might not work!"

"No, it might not. But it also might." The old man turned to look at their adversaries outside. "And. . .we have no choice. They've grown too powerful. We can no longer fight them." Pale eyes grew dark at the thought of friends no longer living. . .and friends who, regrettably, did live. "We must cast the spell. . .now."

The young man took a deep breath then nodded reluctantly. The sorcerer smiled slightly, then turned and hobbled back to his companions in the magikal arts. The young man watched him briefly, then slipped his hands from his pockets and flipped a wrist, sending the cane that had dangled from it into the air and catching it on the way down. Setting it firmly to the ground, he limped to the smaller group, the brace encasing his left leg scraping lightly on the stone floor.

"All right, let's begin." The old man gestured the group toward the center of the room. Obediently, the young people obeyed, moving to the center of the pentacle outlined in powder and candles on the floor. The young man paused, facing the old sorcerer. He studied the scarred face briefly, intently, then turned to limp into the pentacle, being careful not to disturb the outline. Once inside, he turned to face the star's point. Behind him, the rest of the group followed suit.

Around them, the white-robed sorcerers began the chants and gestures that would activate the powerful spell. The pentacle burst into bright silver flame. Outside the ancient house, the forces of evil pressed against the rapidly weakening wards. The chanting without increased as the coven members sensed the sorcerers' attention turned elsewhere. Winds roared, sweeping around the house, shattering windows and tearing shingles from the roof.

The young man glanced around with a shiver. The evil was more noticeable, his head throbbed with it. Looking around with bleary eyes, he saw two of the older sorcerers were down, dead or dying most likely. Three more were sagging, only sheer willpower keeping them upright long enough to complete the spell. He returned his eyes to the old man.

The old man was fully upright--one of the few who were--braced on his ash staff. He meet the young man's eyes unflinchingly. We do what we must do, his pale eyes said. Do what you must do. . .

The young man closed his eyes, hearing the shriek of the wind the shattering windows, the chanting within and without. . .

A hand slipped into his.

Opening his eyes, he turned his head to look into a pair of luminous green eyes set in a fine-boned, dark-hued face. Wordlessly, he drew her close, enveloping her in a tight embrace. She clung to him as he looked past her, past the dying flames of the pentacle and into the swirling grayness. The sorcerers were no longer visible, the chanting no longer audible. Another figure, much smaller then the first, pressed against him and he dropped an arm around the little girl's shoulders, holding her close. The other four drew near, forming a tight cluster. All around them the pentacle outlines faded and grayness darkened into blackness.

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