Chapter six - More Trouble Arises

A dark, husky voice called out angrily. "Report!"

"Yes, sir?" From the shadows, a cloaked figure emerged, bowing to a tall man at the other end of the room. "I have successfully completed the task appointed. What is your bidding now?"

"You slew the boy?" The man asked, stroking a black goatee that decorated his chin. "How?"

The figure chuckled to itself. "It was simple, my lord. The poison on the dagger did not come from this world, therefore it could not be treated by the men who call themselves 'Doctors'. The poison kills within an hour of entering the bloodstream."

"Did you stay to reassure his death?"

"...why, no, my lord...I would have been caught by the girl if I had."

The man growled and threw a glass across the room, shattering it on a wall. "Fool! Then you should have killed her, too! The boy is still alive. A messenger from that crackpot Ethir had the antidote with her!" A pause ensued as he crossed his arms, glaring at the figure. "You have failed me."

A sigh escaped from the hooded one. "Yes, my king. I understand." The hood fell back, revealing a young woman with long, dark hair, pale skin, and eyes of ebony. She grimaced and bowed a second time, her hair flowing over her shoulders as she moved. "I will not fail you again, my lord. Your army will be formed on schedule."

"Yes, very good. But you must redeem yourself after your ibecilic mistake. Go find the two again and kill them both. If the messenger is still hanging around, she should be disposed of as well."

"As you wish, my lord..."

~*~

"Alie!"

"Don't call me that."

"Alie..."

"Don't call me that."

"...Alie..."

"Don't CALL me that!"

Keeping her eyes focused on the road, Alex tried as hard as she could not to burst out laughing. Eliton had been annoying poor Alastair for an hour with the same horridly funny nickname, and up until five minutes ago, he had successfully ignored her taunts.

The imp sighed, shifting slightly on her stomach from her spot in the backseat. "Fine. Have it your way..." A silence settled in for a few moments, until she quietly added, "...Alie."

Alex snorted out a laugh before she could stop herself.

Alastair glared at her, crossing his arms. "I'm glad you find this funny," he stated flatly.

"I have no opinion." She grinned to herself and continued driving, ignoring the giggles from the backseat. "'Course, if I did have one..."

"Not you, too! I have enough with HER!" The boy ran a hand through his hair, exasperated. "I'm surrounded," he finished in a moan, though mostly to himself.

Another chuckle excaped from Alex. "Don't worry, we'll stop for breakfast soon, Alie," she replied, managing to keep her voice from cracking with the laughter she was trying to restrain.

"Thanks for the info, 'Lexy'," Alastair growled, leveling another glare at her.

The girl frowned at the nickname. "Hey, it could be worse."

He maintained his glare for a few moments. "I don't see how. I've just been attacked quite possibly by a Rauhûn minion, had a near-death experience; we're not even close to New York yet, might I add; AND I have to be stuck in the same car as HER!" He exclaimed, frantically pointing to the backseat (and barely missing Eliton's wing by three inches). "How can it be any worse?!"

Alex frowned. "You could be dead, did you ever think of that? I-" she stopped and exchanged glances with the boy. "...did I just-"

"-have the same moment of deja vu I had?" Alastair interrupted, cracking a grin. "Isn't that what I said to you...our first night on Adan-gwann?"

"And didn't I complain to you the same way you did to me?" A similar grin broke onto Alex's face as she gave him a sideways look.

Eliton's voice broke into their shared retrospection. "Awww, young love - how sweet..."

Alex felt the heat of embarassment rising from her neck as Alastair turned around in his seat, fuming. "Shut up, imp. You don't WANT me to be angrier than I already am."

The imp sighed dejectedly, propping her chin on her hand. "Fine, have it your way, Alie." He growled something low in his throat as she quieted down. After a moment of silence, however, she began to mutter to herself. "Just because you haven't learned to control that temper of yours..."

That did it - Alastair snapped. He furiously unbuckled and threw himself in between the two front seats on top of Eliton, who screamed. Alex struggled to keep the boy's flailing feet out of her face as she tried to keep driving. From the sound of it, Alastair was trying to strangle the imp, but was having trouble getting through the layer of wings.

"Quit, guys!" Alex shouted, barely staying in her lane. "BEHAVE!" The road was almost deserted, but there were still ditches on either side of the road, along with endless lines of trees. There was no desire to find themselves in either place. She swerved as Alastair's shoe narrowly missed her forehead, then roughly shoved the rest of him into the backseat in order to grip the wheel with both hands.

Suddenly, she slammed on the brakes, causing the two in the backseat to fall onto the floorboards with a 'WHUMP'-sounding noise. Alastair grunted from the one hundred pounds of imp that had been dumped on top of him and shoved her off so he could sit up. He glanced at Alex, whose eyes were fixed on the windshield.

"Hey, why'd you do that?" He asked crossly, crawling into the front seat.

Without replying, Alex slowly pointed to whatever was outside of the car that had made her screech to a stop. The boy glanced, then took a double take. His mouth fell open in horror at the sight before him.

What should've been a city was complete and utter ruin. Buildings were demolished to mere piles of rubble; a fire hydrant had been smashed and, judging that the stream of water was no more than a trickle, had been that way for some time; bodies lay in every direction, either dead or dying; a car was split in two, with one half was on top of one of the rubble piles and the other was sticking out of a crater in the ground.

Eliton moaned and fell silent. Upon glancing back, the two teenagers saw that she had instantly fallen asleep - obviously, imps were nocturnal.

"At least she'll be quiet for a while," Alastair muttered.

Alex popped the trunk and opened her car door. "C'mon, we should get our weapons out. Whoever did this may still be nearby." She exited the car and stretched, then moved the the rear of the car and fished her staff out of the trunk. Alastair followed suit and grabbed his sword. Just as he'd finished fixing the belt around his waist, Alex began to wander towards one of the had-been buildings.

"What HAPPENED?" She demanded of the air, not expecting anyone to reply.

Alastair angrily kicked what appeared to be a charred, halfway demolished guitar case. "The Rauhûn king, that's what. Or I should say, 'that's who'," he growled, surveying the damage again.

Wandering closer to the massacred buildings, Alex knelt next to a partially buried arm, leaning on her staff in order to keep her balance. She peered at a small bracelet around the wrist and felt for a pulse, then jumped to her feet and began to clear the rubble frantically.

"What?" Alastair was at her side immediately. "What did you find? A Rauhûn?"

She shook her head, still moving debris. "She's still alive, hurry!"

Her partner looked at her strangely. "There's a 'she' under all that?"

"The bracelet says 'Serena' on it," she replied hurredly. "Help me with this!" Alastair finally started heaving the large pieces that he knew Alex couldn't lift, and kept on until he heard his friend cry out.

"Is she ok?" He asked as she knelt next to a very still, almost lifeless girl. Her short, normally dark hair was matted with blood, dirt, and dust. The clothes she wore were ripped, torn and covered with plaster dust, some places more bloody than others. The side of her body, from her forehead to her knees, appeared to have been burned severely. Alex suppressed a shudder as she remembered how painful the Rauhûn king's attacks were... especially since she had been his target once before.

The girl stirred on the ground, slowly opening her dark eyes. She looked at Alex silently for a moment, glanced at Alastair, and back at Alex before she spoke in a hoarse whisper.

"Where did they go?" She asked.

Alex shook her head. "We don't know. Who was here? Were there many people, or just one man?"

"A man...and a woman," the girl rasped, trying to push out the information before it was too late for her. "They came, and... d-destroyed the city... no one left alive..."

Alastair scooted closer, trying to hear her. "A woman, too? Who was she? What did she look like? Why-"

"She wore... a cloak," she interrupted in the same quiet, gasping voice. "She removed her hood before..." tears began to stream down the girl's face, but she didn't flinch as the salty drops touched the burned spots on her cheek. "...she killed my...my parents..."

"Who? Who killed your parents?" He asked urgently, seemingly unaware that the girl was dying.

"Beware...D'sai..." The breath rattled in her chest a final time, and with a convulsive shudder, the girl died.

Carefully, Alex stood and lowered her head sadly. "...she saw her parents die," she whispered, more to herself than Alastair, who stood beside her.

"We're running out of time... if the king came this way, he'll probably be striking again soon. We need to find him before it's too late."