CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

Tobin, Kiethran, and Shallon stood in a triangular formation around Christen and the guardian. Even with Tobin's power, there were too many Nephilm to defend against all of them. The change over would be finished in a few minutes, but in all likelihood, they would be dead long before that.

Tobin cast a ball of air at the Nephilm, causing them to scatter. The ball caught one of them and flung him full force into the back wall. Shallon raised her hand and the dagger she had used on Pothic just days before appeared in her hand. She cast the dagger at one of the Nephilm, striking it in the chest. The Nephilm went down as its associates moved in.

Kiethran reached behind him and pulled out the pistol he had been carrying. He fired three shots at one of the Nephilm. The bullets struck the Nephilm in the chest, forcing it back only a few feet. It began once again to move forward.

Metrick and Samantha stood by as the Nephilm attacked. Their plan was simple. They'd let the Nephilm make the brunt of the attacks. Then, when all the Nephilm were dead, assuming they were, they would move in on the exhausted people. It shouldn't take more than a couple of minutes. Enough time to still take care of the guardian and the successor.

One of the Nephilm pulled out a dagger and cast it at Christen, intending on striking down the successor. Kiethran saw the Nephilm just in time and moved to place himself between Christen and the Nephilm. As he did, he activated his shield power.

A light blue glow covered Kiethran just as the knife reached him. The knife struck Kiethran, then bounce off harmlessly. Kiethran raised his pistol and fired at the Nephilm,

hitting it twice. As before, the Nephilm staggered back a couple of feet but then continued its' advance.

One of the Nephilm cast a fireball at Tobin. He simply raised his hand and his palm was bathed in a soft red glow. The fireball impacted with his hand, and then was deflected away. It struck another of the nearby Nephilm and the creature died in flames.

Shallon teleported behind one of the Nephilm and calling the dagger to her once again simply slit the creatures' throat. It went down in agony as Shallon teleported away. She appeared behind another Nephilm, and again the creature went down, its life's blood pouring from the wound in its throat.

With each attack the ring of Nephilm closed in on the defenders. In only a moment they would overwhelm the defenders by sheer numbers.

The old guardian was still gathering the power to himself. Christen could do nothing except stand and watch as Kiethran, Shallon, and Tobin tried in vain to defend against the attacks.

Suddenly one of the Nephilm stepped up next to the guardian. Kiethran watched as the Nephilm just smiled. It raised a clawed hand and was about to strike down the guardian. None of the defenders was close enough to stop it.

"No," screamed Kiethran as he raised his hand in a vain attempt to stop the Nephilm. Desperation filled Kiethran as he realized that as soon as the guardian died, the war was over. And they would have lost.

Suddenly a black beam shot from Kiethran's hand. It struck the Nephilm and the Nephilm was bathed in a strange black light. It howled in pain, and then suddenly exploded, the pieces of it vaporizing as it did.

The other Nephilm suddenly ceased their attacks and began to retreat. Kiethran turned and again the beam shot from his hand, enveloping another Nephilm. The second Nephilm vaporized as the first.

Without hesitation all of the Nephilm turned and ran. Many teleported out while the rest attempted to escape the warehouse any way they could. Metrick cursed them and charged into the fight, Samantha behind him.

Metrick faced off against Tobin while Samantha faced off against Shallon. Kiethran collapsed on the floor suffering from near total exhaustion. He was only partially conscious as the other four fought.

Metrick struck out at Tobin with a fireball, but Tobin deflected the attack as he had the previous one. As he did, he used his telekinetic ability on a beam that lay against one wall. The beam flew toward Metrick and struck him from behind, sending him sprawling.

Samantha cast a fireball at Shallon, but Shallon simply vanished and reappeared behind her. Shallon once again called the dagger to her and struck out with it. Her aim was off due to her teleportation and she was only able to catch Samantha along the right arm. Samantha backed away, holding the wound as blood poured from it.

Metrick was on his feet in a second. As he turned to face Tobin, the druid suddenly vanished. Metrick spun expecting Tobin to be behind him. As he did, he was greeted by two Tobins facing him, both identical in all respects.

"Clone," said Metrick. Suddenly Metrick became perfectly still as if in a trance. As he did, one of the Tobin's was struck from behind by a fireball, disappearing in a conflagration. The second Tobin spun to face Metrick just as the sorcerer vanished. Tobin spun again as the Metrick in front of him came to life once more.

"Astral project all you want," said Tobin, "unless you hit the right me, it won't do you any good."

Again Tobin vanished and appeared, along with another duplicate of himself, to Metricks' left. Metrick spun and cast another fireball incinerating one of the Tobins. Again, his fireball incinerated the cloned Tobin. Tobin countered with a ball of solidified air, which Metrick simply deflected off onto one of the walls.

"It is time." The voice of the guardian reverberated throughout the warehouse. Everyone turned involuntarily to see the old guardian reach out his hand. As he did, Christen reached out to take his hand.

"No!" screamed Metrick. He turned from Tobin to face the guardian and Christen. He raised his hand intending to strike them both down before the change over could take place.

Tobin didn't hesitate. He launched himself at Metrick and collided with the sorcerer just as the fireball was launched. As he did, Tobin shimmered for a second, then the two vanished as the fireball flew toward its victims.

With superhuman effort, Kiethran raised himself from the floor. He stood up in front of the guardian and Christen and with all his strength activated his shield ability. As the fireball exploded harmlessly on the shield, Christen took hold of the guardians' hand.

Kiethran collapsed unconscious on the floor as Shallon watched the change over take place. As Christen took the guardians' hand, the light bathing the guardian began to expand. Within seconds the glow was bathing Christen as well. She closed her eyes as the power was transferred from the guardian to her.

Within another few seconds, the transfer was complete. The light bathing the guardian ceased and the guardian collapsed on the floor dead. The light enveloped Christen for several more seconds, and then subsided. As she turned to face Shallon, she looked down at Kiethran.

"You have discharged your duty admirably," said Christen. "The change over is complete."

She reached out and covered Kiethran in a soft white light. Kiethran regained consciousness and stood up. He felt fully revitalized. The weakness that had engulfed him after destroying the Nephilm was gone.

"The portal is safe for another millennium," said Christen. "The Nephilm can no longer harm me. But your friends are in need of you. Go, now, and fulfill your pledge to protect the innocent."

Suddenly Kiethran and Shallon vanished from the warehouse and materialized in the living room of the manor. As soon as Kiethran and Shallon vanished from the warehouse, Samantha moved out of the darkness where she had been hiding. Cautiously she made her way to the door and began to walk back to town. It was going to be a long walk.

Pothic ascended the stairs of the manor to the second floor. When he reached the room where Sharon was, he cautiously peered into the room. Sharon was nowhere to be seen. Apparently she had not been as badly injured as he had assumed. She had obviously teleported out of the room.

As he ascended the stairs, Lintron and the three with him ascended the back stairs. Lintron was as devious as Pothic. He ordered the Nephilm to go up ahead of him knowing they would take the brunt of any attacks made.

As the first Nephilm reached the top of the stairs, Panthax attacked out of the shadows. She hit the first Nephilm squarely in the chest sending both of them tumbling down the stairs into the other three. Lintron was barely able to move out of the way before the four collided with him.

Panthax rolled with the fall and was on her feet in an instant. The Nephilm she had attacked lay on the floor, its throat ripped away by her powerful jaws. The other two Nephilm rolled into the kitchen and came up to defend themselves.

Panthax didn't hesitate but bounded up the stairs and away from her adversaries. She gained the top of the stairs and vanished into the hallway before either of them could attack.

"Don't just stand there," screamed Lintron, "go after her. She's only a dog."

The two Nephilm hesitated for a moment, then turned and began to ascend the stairs once more. Both moved up the stairs hesitantly expecting another attack. As the first one reached the top of the stairs, he looked to his right. Pothic was just reaching the top of the stairs.

Pothic glanced in the room to his right, and then proceeded down the hallway to join the two Nephilm. Lintron was just beginning to ascend the stairway behind the Nephilm with him.

Lintron was remaining well behind the others. He was the only fully human with them. None of the others could even touch the sword. It would be up to him to get it. And

his discussion with Metrick only a few days previously had been clear. Using the sword, Pothic would become a casualty of this fight, ending Pothics' and Metricks' rivalry once and for all.

The remaining Nephilm with Pothic moved down the hallway joining Pothic and the others. Pothic smiled. Their prey was trapped. There was no place for them to go.

"You said the sword was up there," said Pothic.

"Yes," said Lintron. "It's inside the stand of a podium that holds the Barddas. If you keep the people busy, I'll get the sword."

"That shouldn't be difficult," said Pothic. "I've only seen one with any powers. That should leave only the policeman, the girl, and the familiar. They should prove no problem."

"Who is with them?" asked Lintron.

"A druid," said Pothic. "I believe her name is Sharon Turner."

"I've heard of her," said Lintron. "She won't be easy to defeat."

"She's only a druid," said Pothic.

"So was Mykaa," said Lintron. "And you couldn't defeat him in more than fourteen hundred years."

"Don't provoke me, sorcerer," said Pothic. "Metrick can protect you only so far."

"I'm not trying to provoke you," lied Lintron. "Only pointing out that you have a habit of underestimating your foes. I wouldn't do that here, if I was you."

Pothic just glared at Lintron. Metrick protected Lintron and the board protected Metrick. But their protection would go only so far. Pothic swore to himself that Lintron would not survive long after retrieving the sword.

Pothic instructed two of the Nephilm to ascend the stairs up to the attic. They would open the door to the attic while the others attacked. The Nephilm would attack first, drawing the fire of the druid, while Pothic would strike her down.

The two Nephilm ascended the stairs to the closed door. There was little room to maneuver in the cramped hallway. Behind them, the other three Nephilm crouched on the stairs, ready to spring as the door was cast open. Pothic stood at the foot of the stairs, Lintron close behind.

Pothic nodded and the two Nephilm at the top of the stairs struck the door. The door shattered under their attack and the three remaining Nephilm rushed into the room.

The first Nephilm exploded into flames as Shallon cast a fireball at it. The second Nephilm rushed into the room and a ball of solidified air slammed into it, sending it colliding against the back wall. The third Nephilm rushed into the room, seeing Steve and Tammy standing against the window against the back wall

The Nephilm rushed past the doorway straight for the two. Neither of the two humans moved. Suddenly Panthax launched herself out of the shadows attacking the Nephilm.

Pothic moved up the stairs, stopping in the doorway. He saw the two humans against the back wall. To his left he saw Sharon and Tobin standing side by side.

"So," said Pothic, "Metrick has failed. I knew he would."

"Oh," said Tobin, "don't be too hard on him. No one could have known that Kiethran would develop the power of Banishment so quickly."

"Metrick is a druid," said Pothic. "It would have had no effect on him."

"True," said Tobin, "but the same can't be said of the Nephilm with him. And even Metrick is susceptible to a shimmer. I'm sure he'll return shortly. But in the meantime, you have to contend with us."

"Gladly," said Pothic. He looked over at the Nephilm that was recovering from the attack made on it by Tobin and the two who had forced the door open. They had just now entered the room. "Kill them," he commanded, indicating Steve, Tammy, and Panthax, who had taken up a position in front of the two humans to protect them. Not even Panthax could protect against three Nephilm at the same time. Pothic began to advance on the two druids.

Lintron waited outside the attic for his opportunity to steal into the attic and claim the sword.