Chapter II: The Riders and the Raid (7)Mature

Will woke in the middle of the night with a sick feeling in his gut, one that he couldn't explain. He curled up, clutching his stomach, but the waves of unease continued unceasing. It took him a while to realise that it wasn't like anything he'd ever felt before, except once.

Slowly, he sat up from bed. The room was pitch black, only a slant of grey light shining between the curtains. Andrel and Arlamus were fast asleep, both snoring quietly enough to tolerate. He was just about to ignore his strange sense when the light turned orange, sweeping past the window like a lighthouse beam. He felt his breath stick in his throat as he  crawled to the end of the bed onto the ground, then stood up. Part of him felt stupid to be so cautious, but now he knew that something was different, something that he couldn't ignore. 

He crouched behind the desk and slowly stood up, peeking between the curtains as the orange light shone past him, watering his eyes with its intensity. The blizzard hadn't settled, in fact it seemed to have gotten worse. The fir trees were hazy, lined like guards down the hidden driveway, and the wall lining the estate was barely visible. As he wrapped his fingers carefully around the curtain to separate them more, the light came again, only he saw it for what it was. Shining in the middle of the estate, right above the fountain, was a  ball of light like a small sun, circling the lodge before returning to its original position.

Suddenly, it pulled back, stopping outside the iron gates, where Will could make out more hazy shapes. They were larger, at least four, distorted with one half of them wavering back and forth. He realised they were people atop horses, with cloaks lashing the air. The rest of them were completely still, and now the orange light was enclosed in what appeared to be several lanterns, held in their hands and attached to the heads of the horses in some way.

The sickness in his stomach had only grown with a feeling that he recognised, but was too afraid to believe. As he stood, transfixed on the riders outside, Maga appeared, floating as a white speck beside him.

'Will, do you sense that?' she asked, her voice gentle yet cautious.

I think so. Is it what I think it is?

'Yes. Magi.'

Magi, in Bootabin. Fear crept across his skin as he turned away from the window and shook Andrel. He groaned and rustled, believing it was part of a dream, but Will persisted until he opened his eyes and realised.

'Will?' he asked groggily, 'what's wrong?'

'There's somebody outside,' he said, not bothering to whisper, his voice dispersing the dreamy mist in the room.

'What are you talking about?'

'As in, there's somebody outside!' Will grabbed him by the arm and dragged him out from under the covers. Andrel's legs quivered, but knowing the urgency in his best friend's voice, he hurried to the window. They still hadn't moved, and it took Andrel a few moments to see them.

'They could just be travellers lost in the snow,' Andrel said, though he didn't seem convinced by his own words. 'This place is visible from a long way away, and Bootabin's completely buried.'

'Then why are they just standing there?' asked Will. 'Why aren't they coming in?'

'What are you guys doing?' asked Arlamus, now sat up and slipping on his glasses, his nose crinkled with annoyance. 'It's the middle of the night.'

'Good observation,' said Andrel mockingly. 'There's somebody outside, and they're freaking Will out.'

The light came forth once more, and as Will saw it come closer, he grabbed Andrel by the sleeve and forced him to the floor with a painful crash. Arlamus slid down and crawled towards them through the gap between the beds.

'Why are they scanning the place?' Andrel asked. Will's heart began to palpitate, for moments at a time unable to breath. He pressed his back against the desk and pressed his hand against his chest. Andrel looked at him worriedly. 'What's wrong?' he asked.

Will suddenly felt more afraid than he had in his life, and he was unable to explain why. 'I feel as if something's really wrong.'

'Will, why would you think that?' He didn't answer, and Andrel shook him for a reply. At the corner of his eye, he saw the beam of light down the centre of the room change, taking a new shape. It parted into two, forming a circle, until -

Will felt as if the blood vessels in his head had exploded, and the inflicted pain made him scream, shrill and agonised. He closed his eyes to stop himself seeing, but it was no good.

He knew the symbol, just as deep down he'd known who the riders were. The same that had come after him before, the same that promised they would chase him from land to land to get what they wanted from him; the ones he would never be able to forget.

Andrel took hold of him, terrified over what to do, trying to calm him. 'Will, what's the matter? Will!'

His lips trembled and his body ached so much that he couldn't let air into his lungs to form words. He held his breath, trying to say it, at the same time fearing what saying it would do.

In the end, he could only shout as another wave of agony came over him. 'M - Mastery!'

Moments later, they heard a loud bang from outside, and only Arlamus was able to stand and watch from the window as the iron gate was blown into shrapnel in a rain of magick and fire.

The End

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