Chapter One - ONE -
GOOD MORNING, STUDENTS,” COLONEL Charles said from a podium in the cafeteria of the Oppenheimer School. “I apologize for taking you away from your studies, but it’s important that you all be made aware of some events that have happened in the last week.”
Sebastian Thomas rolled his eyes as a low murmur passed through the assembled students and even some of the soldiers guarding the doors, of which there were at least twice the usual number. This was going to be good.
“As many of you know, and some of you were involved in, we had a break-in at the school two days ago,” the colonel continued. “Unfortunately, the thieves were able to escape with their objective: a sword of great historic value. But hunting down these thieves will unfortunately have to wait, as there’s a larger threat that needs to be dealt with first.”
That was unexpectedly honest. Sebastian had half expected the colonel to lie and say they still had the sword. But too many of the students had been there, watching as Rachel, Jia, and Fort—aka the Annoying Kid—had taken it.
Even worse, they hadn’t bothered to include Sebastian! Oh, they needed his help to fight the Old Ones back at the old Oppenheimer School, using Healing magic on that former student Damian to push out the Old One mind controlling him. And there was no one better at Healing. Even Dr. Ambrose admitted this, since Jia clearly didn’t count, having secretly been at the school for at least a year longer than Sebastian had been.
Jia and the others were lucky Sebastian hadn’t turned them in to his mother, the head of the congressional committee that decided how much money the TDA would get. Because she was not happy about the theft of Excalibur and had already decided to replace Colonel Charles within the next week or two, as soon as she found a new headmaster she trusted. And if this briefing was any indication, the colonel knew it was coming and was trying to distract everyone with some new threat.
“This theft, while obviously concerning, is not our primary worry at this time,” Colonel Charles continued, glaring at the assembled kids in front of him. “All of you are by now aware of a group of creatures that call themselves the Old Ones and of their intention to return to our world. We’ve been given credible intelligence by one of our Clairvoyance students, Cyrus, that these Old Ones mean to strike in the next few months.”
Okay, that was new. Last Sebastian had heard, the Old Ones were stuck in some other dimension. But that was before everything in London and whatever had gone down with the sword.
But now Rachel had been expelled, Jia was locked in her room, under guard, and the Annoying Kid… well, who cared where he was.
Whatever they were up to, it would have gone down much better with Sebastian in charge. That he knew.
“But because of that intelligence,” Colonel Charles said, “we’ve taken steps to ensure this attack will not happen. We will stop the Old Ones, ladies and gentlemen, before they can even start their attack.”
Sebastian had to cover his laugh with a cough. Really, though? The colonel expected any of them to believe that? The TDA couldn’t even control the Oppenheimer School students, let alone whatever the Old Ones were.
The colonel narrowed his eyes. “Did you not hear what I said? The world is safe only due to the actions of the TDA. We will avert a major incursion by horrific monsters, and I expect some recognition for our brave men and women of the TDA!”
Two or three people started clapping softly, only to stop as no one else followed suit, making Sebastian cough even harder.
Colonel Charles sneered. “Perhaps it’s time you students realized how much we’ve done for you. TDA soldiers have kept some of the most powerful magical items out of the hands of terrorists, animals who mean you and your families harm. We have researched and developed cutting-edge magical weapons to keep the Old Ones out of our world and will preempt any future attacks by their Dracsi. I think a little appreciation is in order!”
Again there was silence… until one voice rose toward the back of the room.
“You’re lying,” said a girl with black hair dressed in an Oppenheimer School uniform. “The Old Ones are coming, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.”
Sebastian turned around and couldn’t help but grin. Finally they were getting somewhere!
The colonel looked up in shock at this newcomer, his hands gripping the podium so tightly the wood creaked. “Jia,” he said quietly, before turning to the soldiers at the back of the cafeteria. “How did she get out of her room? Remove her, now!”
The guards nearest Jia moved to grab her, only to fly back against the walls, stuck there as if they were on a spinning carnival ride. “No, I think I’m done with all of that,” Jia said, slowly walking toward the podium.
Awesome. This, Sebastian wanted to applaud for.
“Stop her!” Colonel Charles shouted, gesturing at the other guards. “Take her down! She was in league with the thieves!”
These new guards moved more cautiously, but the result was the same, and a moment later, they were hanging on the walls as well. A few students stood up to confront her, some glowing with red or blue magic, but a look from Sebastian sent them back to their seats.
“Nice of you to finally step up,” he said to Jia, who rudely ignored him. As usual.
“Colonel Charles is lying to you,” she told the assembled students. “We did take Excalibur, yes, but it was used to beat an Old One. And the other Old Ones won’t be stopped. In fact, they’re on their way now, and Cyrus?” She paused, like she didn’t even want to say the words. “He was on their side.”
Whoa, what? Cyrus was a traitor? That couldn’t be true, could it? Immediately all the students began talking at once, most disbelieving but more than a few sounding scared. This was irritating, since it stopped Jia from explaining, so Sebastian waved a hand, and the assembled mouths froze in place. “She’s not done,” he said, crossing his arms.
“Enough!” Colonel Charles shouted. “I will not let you—”
And then his mouth closed by itself as well, glowing with blue Healing magic. Sebastian lowered his hands, the glow of his Healing magic disappearing. They’d heard enough from the colonel at this point.
“Thanks, Sebastian,” Jia said. “But you can let them go. We need to all trust each other, or we’re never going to make it through this.”
He winced at that. “We might be in trouble, then.”
“How can we trust you?” Moira asked as Sebastian freed the students—but kept Colonel Charles quiet. “You, Rachel, and… that other kid—I forget his name—you all attacked us and took that sword. Why should we believe anything you say?”
Jia nodded. “I get it. I don’t know that I’d believe me either, especially after I just said you’ve been lied to all along. But does anyone really believe Colonel Charles is telling you the truth anymore?”
No one spoke up, and the colonel growled through his closed mouth. This time, Sebastian didn’t hide his loud laugh.
“Exactly,” Jia said. “Anyway, don’t take my word for it.”
With that, she stopped and gestured toward the stage.
A circle of green light opened next to Colonel Charles, who leaped away from it in surprise, then pulled what looked like some kind of wand out of his holster, glowing with red light.
The wand immediately exploded, and he clutched his hand in pain as he stared at the two children passing through the green teleportation circle. One was Rachel, whom Sebastian was happy to see. After all, she was his counterpart in the Destruction school, the best of the best.
But the other kid… ugh.
“What’s up, Opps School?” Rachel said with a wide grin, her hands raised in the air, still glowing red from destroying Colonel Charles’s magical wand. “Nice to be back. Now, we’re going to need all of your help. Jia’s right: We took Excalibur to use against the Old One of Time magic. And guess what? We trashed him. And we can do the same to the others.”
“But we can’t do it alone,” said the Annoying Kid, Forsythe, and he gestured for something to come through the teleportation circle behind him. The head of a large black dragon passed through it, and Sebastian’s eyes widened. That was new.
He readied a spell as half the rest of the students leaped to their feet, only for Jia to freeze the others in place. “But it’s not the Old Ones who we need to face right now.”
The dragon nodded and snorted fire in annoyance. “No, you ridiculous humans,” Ember said in English. “It’s Damian, a fellow dragon, who apparently has lost his mind and is bringing the Old Ones here. As much as I despise setting a precedent of humans attacking dragons, we need to hunt him down and eat him—”
“We need to stop him,” Fort immediately interrupted, shaking his head at the black dragon. “No eating!”
The dragon rolled her eyes but went silent. The rest of the room followed suit, as did Sebastian, considering everything the new kids had just said, none of which sounded good. And what was worse, he knew—he knew—that there was no way Rachel, Jia, and Fort would include him in all of this, in spite of the fact that he was the number one Healing student and could probably take all three of them down if he needed to.
Just as Sebastian decided it was time for him to take charge of things, Annoying Kid stepped on his moment by turning to the colonel. “So, Colonel, it’s time we filled you in on what’s really been going on. Mind if we use your office?”
Sebastian couldn’t help but roll his eyes again. Of course they’d tell the colonel—who’d failed time after time—everything but leave Sebastian out of things yet again.
And what could they possibly have been up to that was so important they could only share it in private?