Valorie only looked up when she heard Adam speak. He was further away than she had first thought. In fact he couldn’t have been much more than ten meters away. He stood there, clothes torn away in strips. The explosion had affected him too, but only barely.
Charley stared him right in the face, and Adam just stared back. The two men stood, rigid, frozen to the spot.
‘Charley Aether,’ Adam snarled.
‘Adam Quinn,’ Charley growled back.
Valorie struggled to her knees. She narrowed her eyes, blurring the picture of burned bodies lying in the grass. She craned her neck to look at Charley, to see what he would do next.
‘You hated me,’ Adam said, anger in his voice. ‘You always did. Everybody did. And now, here you all are, ready to kill me.’
‘Yes, we are.’
‘Your hatred towards me cannot equal mine,’ Adam said, walking towards him. ‘I feel such strong hate burning inside me. I should have realised that I could use it to enhance my powers. You’ve never known what it feels like to possess inexorable power, do you?’
Charley too walked towards Adam, and they began to circle each other.
‘You’re going to die today,’ Charley said, scowling. ‘You’ve never taken on so many Wizards before. You think you’re powerful just because you attack innocent civilians? You spineless nothing.’
Adam snarled and brought out the rod. It fired, and Valorie winced and ducked, waiting for the shouts, but Charley dodged the ray easily.
‘Adam,’ he said disapprovingly. ‘Attacking an unprepared Wizard. Why not give your prey a sporting chance?’
Adam lowered his rod, looking at Charley in absolute detestation.
Slowly, the crowd got to its feet. Christophe was one of the first to rise, holding his cousin by the shoulders. More people got to their feet – an Indian family, a group of people in robes, three men in ‘Wizards Unite’ shirts.
Valorie stood up slowly, keeping her head down. She didn’t want Charley to see her.
Eventually everyone was assembled.
‘We duel,’ Charley said slowly,’ at ten paces.’
‘Fine,’ Adam said, and turned his back.
Valorie turned too, along with the mobs of people.
‘One,’ Charley said.
They stepped again.
Valorie felt her skin become cold and clammy under her clothes.
Ruby was mumbling something desperately under her breath.
A bald man threw up in front of her, spitting frantically.
Valorie stepped over the patch of sick, holding her breath.
A noise escaped from Valorie’s throat; something like a squeak.
She dared turn round, to see if Adam was playing fair.
Adam swivelled on his heel, wand raised. Valorie yelped, making others spin round to see.
Everyone spun round and thrust out their arms.
Valorie yelped again as spells shot out from somewhere under the Wizards’ wrists. They shout out, becoming beams, finding each other, bonding, becoming one, streaking towards Adam.
Adam’s rod also shot out, a long blue beam. It hit the canopy that the Wizards’ spells had formed, burst through it. The canopy of magic that the spells had formed burst, became a light purple mist and dispersed.
Valorie breathed out, relieved. The spells must have cancelled each other out.
As she watched, the Wizards prepared to fire again, but Adam was there, sweeping fire out between them, creating a divide. Some Wizards detached themselves from the main body, leapt forward over the wall of fire. They shot out with different spells. One of them was a tall man in a jumper and scarf. A yellow beam flashed across and hit Adam full in the chest, knocking him down. But he had not let go of his rod, and managed to point it at the Wizard that had injured him. The Wizard cried out and fell.
Valorie fought her way through the struggling hordes, churning and thrashing like a barrel of fish. She needed to get a better view of Adam. It was impossible to see.
She rushed forwards and almost tripped over something. What was it? A box. A box? She stood on it, staring over the crowd, trying not to attract attention.
There was Adam, dispatching a group of Wizards, knocking them backwards. Ruby was somewhere ahead of her, doing her best to stay standing up. Charley had been forced against a tree trunk by the swarm of people, but was still doing what he could, firing spells in Adam’s direction.
Valorie craned her neck. Where were Eddie, Simon, and Hermes? What was going on?
Charley yelled as somebody shoved against him. More followed, and he disappeared under the heads of the Wizards.
‘Charley!’ Valorie called automatically.
Instantly, Charley’s head reappeared, and he looked straight at her. It took a few moments for realisation to kick in. Valorie was shocked at the expression that formed on Charley’s face. It was an expression she had never seen before – one that had no name and couldn’t be easily described. Charley’s stance and posture said ‘Urgency’, but the face said something else.
Valorie tried desperately to decipher this – but a spell smacked into her, and she fell down. Her back slammed heavily onto the grass. She moaned in pain, and scrambled to get up, realising she could be trodden on if she stayed still to long.
Where were all the people going? They were ebbing and flowing in the wrong direction. Adam was in the other direction, where her feet were pointing. They weren’t running away, were they?
She tried to stand on the box again.
Wind whipped through her hair, and an awful sight met her eyes.
Fire was burning its way across the grass. The tree Charley had been standing beside had caught the flames. It was burning ferociously. Ashes drifted down.
But that wasn’t the worst bit. The worst bit was the whirling mass that Adam was juggling in his palms.
It was a mass of people, whirling in the air, whirling in tight circles, trapped in a flurry; a huge tornado. It was like that poor charity collector, but on a much larger scale. She saw the terrified face of Christophe. The noise was horrific. Screams, wails, cracking of bones. She screamed, trying to find Charley.
Valorie jumped sideways as the fire made its way towards her, ran round in an arc and stepping on the burnt grass. Feeling safer, she ran towards Adam. She had to do something. Maybe she could. Maybe Adam would listen to her.
‘Hey!’ she shouted.
The Wizards tore around, unable to free themselves from the windstorm.
Adam looked. His eyes widened. The flurry lessened for a second, and a few Wizards fell to the ground. More cracking sounds.
‘You’re back,’ he said. He spoke at normal volume, so Valorie only just caught his words. ‘What do you have to say to me?’
‘You…’ Valorie sought inside herself for the very worst word she knew, and spat it at him. He roared at her, threw his head back and gave a brutal roar. He threw down the tornado that he held so effortlessly in his hands. The Wizards dropped. Those that managed the fall without breaking their bones began to hurriedly crawl away.
Adam was stepping towards her. Valorie shouted the awful, awful word again and again, unable to stop herself.
‘You still hate me then, my dear,’ he said, striding forward. ‘What must I do to impress you? Do I have to kill you again? I don’t really want to, but I shall, if you so wish.’
‘’I hate you! You’re insane. I wish you were dead!’ she screamed. Her throat burned. The smoke was beginning to hurt.
‘But I created this for you too, Sophie,’ he said. ‘This is my Distortia. Do you remember? I told you many times. This was the world I made up, when I was a child. When I was left alone, every single lunchtime. Nothing else to do. This is what I dreamed of achieving all those years, and I promised long ago to share this world with you. I will not hurt you, if you choose to side with me.’
Valorie stared, unable to believe what she was hearing.
‘Sophie, why are you so hard?’ he asked, stepping closer, seeming to soften somehow. He seemed to have tuned out to the wails of pain behind him. ‘This can be our world. I offer you my love, my heart and soul… I just want to be with you, Sophie. I can’t enjoy Distortia without you.’
Valorie swallowed. The air was becoming smokier, and it seared her nostrils. But she managed to croak,
‘Sophie’s dead. You killed her.’
Adam shook his head, starting to cry.
‘No, no, no. No. You’re lying. Sophie, you’re alive. Why do you keep saying these things? Stop it. Sophie’s not dead. I’d never kill my Sophie, never. Why do you lie to me? You liar! I hate you!’