Chapter 4: “We’re ready.” Steve was another member of the resistance, and like Landon, not only was his control collar inoperable, but he could use elemental magic. Steve looked human, a lot of the other soldiers didn’t, not quite, but the seventeen-year-old had never been aware of him back on Earth. Landon had been able to sense a lot of magic users by the time he was sixteen, but somehow, Steve had managed to elude him.
“When do we strike?” They were walking on the parade grounds. Landon’s limp was almost gone and Dr. Swanson, also a member of the rebellion, would have to declare him fit for duty in another few days. It was the same with Steve whose arm had been broken in a medieval combat simulation. He was slightly taller than Landon and a few years older, dark hair and eyes, medium complexion. He said his Mom was from Mexico and his Dad was from “someplace else,” which probably meant another dimension.
“Tomorrow at dawn. All of the magic users have been alerted. We’ll be the first wave, taking out the Master and the top echelon. Once we disable the control mechanisms, the rest will be easy. We must outnumber them a hundred to one.”
“Dawn.” Landon and Steve stopped at the flagpole and saluted. On the flag was a representation of the ancient Roman god Janus, the two-faced god who represented beginnings, gates, transitions, passages, and time. It was a curious symbol for a group of extra-dimensional players, who used intelligent life forms as pieces in their bloody war games. “What about the people in play? There will still be thousands in the different simulations.”
“The minute we take the control fields offline, they’ll be pulled back here where the main projector is. It’s designed to retrieve the game pieces in the event of a power disruption.”
“After today, we won’t be pieces again. We’ll be free.” Landon clenched his fist in defiance, and then opened his hand again in case anyone noticed. He had to act passive, at peace, controlled, at least until it was time for the thralls to overthrow their dominators.
He had the dream again that night. It was Buddy, which is what he called the dragon when he was a little boy. Xendrizdelian Nygardia Chyz was too much of a mouthful for a seven year old, but when he turned twelve, in private, he started calling him Xen.
He was a tiny dragon again, no larger than a small collie, his original golden color, blue eyes, wings like a bat’s, but this time they were both broken. He could hear the dragon whimpering. Then there were his two guards, tall, dark figures, cruel, torturing his former teacher, but the setting, always the same, was puzzling. Why was he being held captive in Landon’s bedroom?
The teenager woke up startled and sat upright in bed. The clock said it was nearly six in the morning, an hour before dawn. “I know where you are, Buddy. I can’t believe it.”
Everything had to look normal until the moment of the attack. Landon dressed in his day uniform in his room at the rehab center. He went down to the campus mess hall and made random selections for breakfast. The wall clock said 6:41, Seventeen minutes left. He ate hurriedly. It was a trait of their profession. You never knew when you’d get the call to duty, so you did everything as fast as you could except sleep. Sleep was the only escape, that is, up until now.
His tray was clean. Twelve minutes left.
Everyone was on the marching field facing the flag. It was Sharon Blaine’s turn to blow reveille. The sky to the east, though they probably weren’t really on a planet and like everything else, the sun was a simulation, was becoming brighter. The almost human girl, who looked only a year or two older than Landon’s sister, raised the bugle to her lips. This would be the signal.
Steve was at his left and a newbie named Esteban was on his right. Carmen Ramsey and the rest of the medical personnel were ready to put the Master and his staff in status once the control systems were down. No killing if they could help it. They wouldn’t let their former rulers turn them into bloodthirsty monsters.
Landon saw the first signs of the sun breaching the horizon. Sharon played the last note on her bugle.
“Now!” The cry was carried telepathically among the thousands.
The dreaded Master and his Council of Ten erupted in a blaze of eldritch energy, searing hot plasma surrounding them, penetrating them, with both the power and surprise of the attack rendering them momentarily helpless. Tremors violently shook the campus grounds as the subterranean control center exploded beneath them vaporizing the master computers, the robotic operators, and any of the loyal overseers. The resistance members assigned for his morning’s duty in the center were rotated off the schedule at the last minute.
The coup was quick and efficient. An hour later, Landon and Steve stood side-by-side as they watched Carmen and the rest of the medical staff lock the settings on dozens of stasis chambers. The teenager looked down at the placid face of the Master with his one good eye.
“It’s over.” Carmen sighed. “The soldiers can finally go home.
“I can’t. Not yet.”
“You mean the dragon.”
“Yes. He’s out there. I finally know where and when. I have to help him. It’s a miracle he was able to carry memories of me with him into the alternate history, and even then, he thinks I’m just a dream.”
“I’ll come with you.” Steve put a hand on Landon’s shoulder.
“It’s my battle. I have to go alone.”
“No, you don’t, and rescuing the dragon isn’t just your duty. There’s a reason he’s being held.”
Landon turned toward his friend, his suspicion aroused. “What do you mean?”
“Listen to me.” It was Carmen who answered. “The Master and the Council were only pawns, like us. They were playing a game, too, but there were always more powerful forces behind them, guiding them.”
“She’s right. The dragon knew. He tried to fight them. They can’t kill him because of the secrets he knows, secrets that might destroy the multiverse if he died, but they can keep him enslaved. The only way for us to truly win is to free the dragon, restore his power, and then challenge the evil ones behind this plot.”
“I know where he is and how to reach him. If you want to come with me, fine. Carmen, you’ll stay in charge here. We can’t leave these Masters unguarded until the final victory.”
“I know. That means I was wrong and we can’t send away the soldiers, not yet. Not while the ones behind it all might still liberate them.”
“We’ll be free soon.” Landon took Carmen by the shoulders. She wrapped her arms around him and they hugged, while an embarrassed Steve turned away, blushing.
“Hey, don’t mind me here.”
Landon and Carmen laughed realizing they were in a room with dozens of medical technicians as well as Steve.
“Sorry.” The doctor patted Steve on the soldier.
“Yeah, we’d better get going. We can leave from the parade grounds.” Landon led the way out of the room, but then stopped at the threshold. Turning back to Carmen, he said, “I’ll be back soon.”
“I’ll be here.” Her smile was sad, and she kept looking at the empty doorway for minutes after the two men left.
Landon and Steve stood on the now empty parade grounds. The flag had been lowered and then burned, along with the podium and stage where the Master and Council Members had stood over them every morning when they weren’t battling in a simulation.
“Everyone’s at their assigned stations.” Steve could sense all the living beings in the compound as could Landon. They should have felt a sense of security, but something wasn’t quite right. Then Estaban, hair and skin so much like Steve’s but his face and body were more lean, and his eyes were blue, stepped out from behind the flagpole, which should have been impossible.
“Where did you come from?” Steve’s question was a challenge.
“Not where, dear brother, but when.” Estaban’s body shimmered like the surface of a pool of water when you throw a rock in it. When the image settled down again, it as Steve, or an exact duplicate.
“I knew you were behind all this, but I didn’t think you’d be hiding right under our noses.”
“I know everything you do, my dear twin.”
“Twin?” Landon looked back and forth between the two men. “He’s your brother.”
“Was my brother.”
“Oh, come now, Steve. The bond is still there.”
“Except you decided to join the greatest evil ever to exist.”
“Always go with the winning side.”
“You’ll never win.”
“We will as long as we have the dragon. You have to go through me to get to him, and you never will.”
Landon was tired of the “monologuing” and struck first, combining the wind and flame elements to surround Estaban with a lethal firestorm.
“Nice try, but I actually moved several seconds back in time.” Estaban’s voice came from behind the two warriors, but then they were engulfed in what seemed like water, a world where they moved only very slowly. It took almost a minute for them to turn around, but they kept getting slower all of the time. When they were facing their enemy again, both Landon and Steve were frozen.
Seven-year-old Landon was playing with fourteen-month-old sister Dani in the backyard while their Grandpa was inside making dinner. Dad wouldn’t be home from work for another half hour, though Seventeen-year-old Landon didn’t know why he recalled this day with such clarity, or did he?
“This is it, Landon.” Estaban was standing in front of them laughing. The children didn’t seem to see or hear him. “This is the day before your Grandfather found the dragon in the field, his wing broken, desperate for help. Now he never will, or if he does, you won’t be around to see it.
“Time master,” Landon thought. I couldn’t move but his senses were astonishingly keen. Steve, at his right, commanded the elements, but Estaban ruled over time. That’s how he captured the dragon.
“I see you figured it out, but you are far too late.” Estaban reached into his uniform’s tunic and pulled out a handgun. “I don’t really need this to kill them, but it’s so much fun making you watch your own undoing. First I’ll shoot your sister, and then you. I’ll probably add your Grandpa in just for fun. Materializing in three…two…one…”
The children looked up to see the strange man come out of nowhere. He had a gun pointed at them and it wasn’t a toy.
“Grandpa!” It was the last thing the little boy said.
This is a continuation of a storyline my nine-year-old grandson asked me to write for him. The previous stories are:
Apparently there’s a “Minecraft Steve Saga” which is here my grandson got the idea for the “Steves,” but I’ve written them in my own fashion.
I’ve been crafting stories about him and the dragon for over two years now, and it doesn’t look like I’ll stop any time soon. I hope he likes this one.
The next chapter: Reversal.