Chapter One - ONE -
PRESIDENT FORSYTHE FITZGERALD,” Fort’s father said, pointing at the spots where each word would go above the giant statue of a seated Abraham Lincoln.
This should have been a happy moment, seeing his dad again, but knowing what was coming, all Fort could feel was horror. “We have to get out of here, Dad. Now!” he yelled. He tried to grab his father, but his hand swept right through his dad’s like he was a ghost.
“I feel like we’re going to need a larger statue, though,” his father continued, like he hadn’t heard a word Fort said. “These ceilings are high enough to fit that head of yours, but you’re definitely going to require a bigger seat.”
“None of that matters,” Fort said, wanting to scream in frustration. “If we stay here, you’ll be taken again. I need to get you out of here!”
But his father ignored him, like he was stuck going through the same motions as the day it’d all happened, no matter what Fort did. The other tourists at the Lincoln Memorial didn’t seem to hear Fort either, as they continued about their visit, unaware of what was about to come.
“You’ll do all of that and more!” his father shouted, and this time, other people did look, just like they had six months ago. “There’s no time to be lazy, not with all the amazing things you’re going to accomplish! And don’t forget that I still want a flying car, so I’ll need you to invent that, too.”
“Dad, please,” Fort said, tears now rolling down his face. “Come with me? I can’t keep going on like this, not knowing if you’re alive or if you’re… you’re hurt. Please, just leave, you don’t have to keep saying everything you already said that day—”
“Um, I’m pretty sure as an adult, I can talk as loudly as I want,” his father said. “But stop pushing us off topic, Fort. This is your future we’re talking about! You’re going to be a great man someday, and I for one can’t wait to take pictures in front of your statue as children gaze up at it adoringly!” He waved at two girls who were watching them, giggling. “See? We’ve already got two volunteers.”
“Dad, this is about your future,” Fort said, trying in vain to grab his father’s hand again. “If you stay, I’m going to lose you, and I can’t… I can’t handle that. Not after Mom… please, Dad, come home with me!” This was all so horrible, knowing what was to come, but even on the day it’d happened, Fort hadn’t felt so helpless as he did now. “If you come, you’ll… you’ll see what I’ve been doing! I’ve been learning magic! It’s wild, I can’t even believe it, but I did it for you! I wanted to get revenge on the monster that took you, but then when I had my chance, I couldn’t do it. It was almost funny, after all that time wanting to hurt it—”
“It’s not not funny,” one of the two girls said.
“Intelligent youths around here!” his father shouted in response. “Listen to them, Fort. I hear that the children are our future.”
“They have to be now,” Fort said, hoping his father could hear him at some level. “Because children are the only ones who can use magic. These books of magic turned up, like, thirteen years ago, but only kids can read them and learn the spells. But once some students started using magic, these horrific nightmare creatures found us, and they want to take over the world, just like they did thousands of years ago. They’re still looking for us, Dad, and I can’t hide from them, not if I want to find you—”
“Low blow, young man,” his dad said, then pointed at Lincoln. “Do you think our beloved sixteenth president would have spoken to his father that way? And he’s your personal hero!” He leaned closer to the girls conspiratorially. “When my boy here was in diapers, he’d stroll around in a top hat and make us call him Fort Lincoln.”
One of the girls snorted, while the other turned away to hide her laughter, but Fort didn’t care. At this point, he wasn’t sure why he ever had. “Dad, we don’t have any more time, it’s on its way. It’s going to destroy the whole National Mall, and if we don’t get out now—”
“Oh, we have plenty of time,” his father said, taking out his phone. “Besides, I think I have pictures of that in here. Girls, do you want to see?”
“Take me to the Einstein Memorial!” Fort shouted. “Remember? You’re just about to mention that. We just need to get out of here—”
“Nonsense!” his father shouted. “Why, we haven’t even seen Einstein yet. Did you know there’s a statue of Einstein right off the National Mall? And the Gettysburg Address!” He pointed at the speech carved into the wall of the Lincoln Memorial to the left of the president. “Look at this. Two hundred and seventy-two words. Short and to the point.”
And then it was too late.
The memorial began to tremble, and Fort knew that nothing was going to change, that his father was going to be taken down into the earth, just like he’d been six months ago, and that all Fort could do was watch.
“I think President Lincoln is waking up,” his father whispered to Fort with a grin. “Did you know a second man gave a two hour speech before Lincoln at Gettysburg?” He handed Fort a brochure with the Gettysburg Address written out in multiple languages, the same one Fort always kept in his pocket. This version fell right through his ghostlike hand and gently landed on the floor of the memorial like he wasn’t even there.
And then the second tremor hit, this time much worse than the first. Several people around the memorial began to shout in surprise, but Fort just turned and walked toward the entrance, not even caring how many tears fell now.
He couldn’t see this. Not again. He couldn’t watch his father—
But the scene shifted around him, and suddenly he was right back inside, his father reaching out to steady Fort as the trembling stopped again. “Ladies, maybe you should go find your parents,” his dad said to the two girls they’d been talking to before turning to Fort. “Are you okay, kiddo?”
Fort just looked up at him, shaking his head, his mouth hanging open. What was there to say? He couldn’t stop this, but he wasn’t allowed to leave, either? Why was his mind torturing him like this?
“That’s the spirit,” his father said. “But maybe we should head back to the hotel and grab some dinner. Einstein can wait. After all, time is his relative, I think. Probably a cousin.”
His father made his way through the crowd toward the stairs, and Fort just shut his eyes. Wake up, he thought to himself. Wake UP. Don’t do this to yourself. You don’t have to see it, not again. Not every night!
When he opened his eyes, though, he was at the stairs with his father, watching as people ran from the Washington Monument in single-file lines. Sierra was causing that, he had learned later. She was using her mind magic to control them all, trying to make sure none of the tourists would be hurt when the creature destroyed the monument. And soon she’d take over Fort’s mind too, trying to force him to escape… but leaving his father behind.
A third tremor struck, this time far worse than the last two. The stone of the memorial leaped straight up, throwing everyone into the air except Fort, who was still intangible. The stone cracked beneath him in a jagged lightning shape all the way down the steps.
“Out!” Fort’s father shouted, pushing the girls toward the exit before trying to grab Fort’s hand and run down the stairs with him. Instead, Fort just stood like a helpless bystander, waiting for the horror that was to come.
“Stay alive,” Fort whispered after his father. “Please, wherever you are… just be okay until I can get to you. I have a plan, and I’m coming for you, so stay alive.”
He braced himself for the creature to appear from beneath the Washington Monument, hoping he wouldn’t have to watch again, over and over like he had every night since he’d first heard Dr. Oppenheimer’s secret: The doctor thought Fort’s father might still be alive.
But instead of the ground cracking and a giant black scaled hand emerging, a mass of tentacles pushed out of the earth, rising up to reveal crystalline armor, a skull helmet, and the form of the Old One who’d taken over Damian at the Oppenheimer School.
YOU WERE THE CHILD WHO CAUSED US PAIN, it shouted in Fort’s mind, sending agony shooting through his skull. He screamed, trying to wake up, to do anything to flee from this monstrosity, but nothing worked. YOU WISH TO SEE YOUR ELDER AGAIN. WE CAN FEEL YOUR DESIRE. BRING US THE LAST DRAGON, AND YOU SHALL HAVE YOUR FATHER BACK—
Out of nowhere, Cyrus’s face pushed through the Old One’s tentacled helmet, and the sky faded into an ugly green color, the ceiling of the boys’ dormitory at the new Oppenheimer School. Cyrus had his hand on Fort’s shoulder, shaking him as he stared down worriedly while standing on the bunk below Fort’s. “Hey, are you okay?” Cyrus asked. “You were shouting in your sleep again.”
His heart still racing, Fort took a deep breath, trying to calm down. This wasn’t the first time Cyrus had to wake him up. He’d been having the same dream every night for two weeks now. Though this was the first time the Old One had appeared. That was new.
Not that it could be real. This was just his head finding new ways to torment him, now with promises that his father was still okay. Not that Fort had any idea what a last dragon was, or where that idea had come from. The only dragons he knew of were the skeletons that he’d seen in the old Oppenheimer School’s museum room.
“I’m fine,” he told Cyrus. “Did I wake you up?”
Cyrus shrugged. “Yes, but that’s okay. Because when you did, a vision hit me at the same time. They’re being moved. Tomorrow night’s going to be our only chance to grab them.”
Fort’s eyes widened, and he forced a smiled. “Finally. Tell the others in the morning, and we’ll meet at lunch to go over the plan one more time.”
Cyrus nodded, then slipped back down into his bed below, leaving Fort to try to forget the image of the Old One. That had just been a dream. But now he was going to be able to take concrete steps to bring his father home.
I’m coming for you, Dad, he thought. Just please… be okay.