Sophie and Jake relax in London. But all is not as it should be, and the quiet streets of London hold deadly danger.
This excerpt describes events that take place immediately following the Aster Prequel Trilogy, and the bonus content of 20 June 2020.
Sophie was having a lovely stroll beside the Thames with Jake in the early afternoon. Back in her home town, Sophie could finally, truly relax. Jake had his arm around her neck, and the two of them wandered slowly along the riverside. Even though the traffic buzzed loudly, and tourists from all over the world hurried past them, talking and shouting in languages she’d only be able to understand if she put her magic to work, Sophie somehow found it peaceful.
She loved this city. She loved the magical island of Saluverus, too, but this really was the place where she felt the most at home.
Which was why it took her a second longer to register the few people that looked utterly out of place on the streets of the historic city. They were a group of five men and women, dressed in brown and black leathers from head to toe. It was very unlike any human fashion she’d seen the past few days.
Sophie slowed her pace further. Jake noticed the change in her immediately and matched her new speed. He looked down at her and asked, “What is it?”
As subtle as she could, Sophie indicated towards the group of five people with her head. “Are they what I think they are?”
They weren’t carrying any weapons – at least visibly – but they were too out of place to be anything else.
Jacob followed her gaze. His arm around her shoulders tensed the second he saw them. “What the hell are they doing out here in the open? And dressed like that?”
“I don’t know,” Sophie replied.
“Come on,” Jake said. He guided her away from the river and up one of the busier main streets. He quickened his place slightly.
Sophie turned her head to glance backwards. “They’re following us.
“Shit,” Jacob hissed.
They turned into a side street; one that still had a lot of people walking through it. There, Jacob let go of her, so the two of them could hurry along much faster. Once they reached a crossroads, they chose to turn left; the street was still crawling with people.
Sophie glanced over her shoulder again.
The group had picked up their pace, too, clearly telling Sophie and Jake that they were in fact Disciples. And that they were after Sophie and Jake.
“We need to get to a less busy street,” Jake muttered as he tried to manoeuvre his way through the crowd. “We’ll be able to move faster then.”
“So will they,” Sophie pointed out.
They moved up along the street. The crowds were starting to thin to just a few people, and there was no traffic. The moment they could, Sophie and Jacob jumped off the pavement and ran up the road. They barely took an extra second to assess where they were once they reached the next crossroad. They needed to move, and they needed to move fast. They didn’t have any weapons, and they needed to get to a place where humans couldn’t see them if they were caught in a battle – or get caught in it too.
Sophie looked behind them. Even with all their twisting and turning through the quieter streets of London, the Disciples were still tracking with them. Though they were still a significant distance away from them, it was much easier to get closer now that there were no crowds to slow them down.
“Oh crap,” Jacob breathed. Sophie snapped her head forward and saw that in the distance, a new group Disciples were rounding a corner and heading for them.
“In here,” Jake grabbed Sophie’s wrist and pulled her down a side street.
“They’re going to cut us off,” Sophie said.
“Not if I can help it,” Jake replied with fierce determination. Sophie bit her lip to stop herself from saying anything. If these Disciples had planned to come after them; if this attack was pre-meditated, Sophie doubted there was anything she or Jake could do, even with Jacob’s affinity for strategy to call on, to keep from being herded towards where the Disciples wanted them. Though, Sophie didn’t think Jake would appreciate her pointing that out. He was too busy guiding them through London’s back streets, dashing into side streets and alleys ahead of her.
The Disciples behind them were getting ever closer, and every time Sophie and Jacob reached an intersection, there was at least one other direction from which more Disciples were charging at them.
Now again, Sophie and Jacob skidded to a halt at a cross street to get their bearings. To their left, the street narrowed to the width of two people. Halfway up it, there was scaffolding against the front of one of the buildings, and bins of building rubbish and materials, narrowing the street even more. From behind it, Sophie could see another two Disciples coming their way.
“This way,” Jacob said. He made to grab her wrist and guide her in the opposite direction, where the street was clear.
“No,” Sophie replied, pulling her arm back. “Follow me.”
Jacob followed her gaze down the street to their left. Sophie saw the moment he registered the Disciples far behind the scaffolding reflected in his eyes.
“You have to trust me, come on.” And Sophie dashed to the left. Jacob might have grumbled something behind her, or she might have imagined it. either way, she didn’t care. She ran straight towards the scaffolding, and skidded to a halt beside it. Jacob was there seconds later. He looked at both ends of the street and swore.
“We’re surrounded now,” he muttered.
“At least we’re not where they wanted us,” Sophie said dismissively. Her attention was barely on the boy behind her. Her eyes were scanning the bins and found what she was looking for. “And we needed weapons.”
Sophie turned to face Jacob, a steel rod in one hand and a hammer in the other. She tossed both to Jake, who caught them, looked at them sceptically, and then shrugged. He turned away from her, both make-shift weapons raised in front of him.
Sophie continued to search the bins, finding weapons for herself. Within seconds she’s armed herself with a screwdriver and piece of metal piping probably used for plumbing. When she straightened and looked at both ends of the street, she found that there were eight Disciples coming to a halt a few feet away from Jacob, and another five were coming from the other side of the scaffolding.
Sophie moved to stand with her back against Jake’s. She didn’t like their numbers, and she didn’t like that all the Disciples were now brandishing weapons, while they only had metal objects from a building site to protect them.
If only they had one more person who could fight alongside Jacob, blocking any Disciples on his side from getting to her from behind. That would already increase their odds.
There was only one person Sophie could think of, who could be there by their side in the blink of an eye.
Sophie stared at the Disciples who were slowly advancing down the alley towards her and made her decision. “Sk—” she began to call out.
“Sophie, no!” Jacob interrupted her.
Sophie frowned, but didn’t turn around to look at him. “What is your problem?”
“We can do this. We don’t need him,” Jacob assured her.
Sophie found herself rolling her eyes. “This is no time to play the hero, Jake.”
“Listen to me, Soph. You are strong. And I am here. We don’t need help.”
“I know I’m strong,” Sophie snapped irritably. “I’m also smart. We might not need help. But there’s no use taking a greater risk if we don’t need to.”
Before Jake could respond to that, Sophie called out, “Sky! Disciple attack! Come quick!”
That call set all the Disciples in motion. They knew exactly what it meant that Sophie had called the Aster of Speed and Flight. Not only could Sky appear in a second; in theory he could appear with every other Aster of their generation. Meaning these Disciples could be facing the full force of the Asters and their magic in a matter of seconds.
As Sophie used the metal pipe to block the sword of the first Disciple to swing at her, it equally surprised and worried her that it was taking Sky longer than usual to appear by her side. She had no idea what her brother was doing at that precise moment. She realised that she hadn’t even thought about what time zone he’d be in on the other side of the world. All she thought was how he could appear in seconds and help them fight.
The impact of the sword on her metal pipe reverberated through her whole arm, but Sophie felt relieved that the object held steady. It wasn’t sharp; she couldn’t kill any of these Disciples with a subtle slice or stab. She needed to hit, and hit hard. Preferably across the head. Or get close enough to jam her screwdriver into the Disciple’s neck.
“Where is he?” Jacob snapped as his steel rod collided with a Disciple’s sword behind her.
“Oh, now you care if he’s coming,” Sophie muttered as she moved forward and spun away, swinging the pipe. It hit the Disciple in front of her right on his temple. The impact was hard enough that she immediately collapsed.
Sophie managed to take another Disciple down when, finally, a blue light appeared beside her. She was about to sigh in relief, but that feeling disappeared the second the light of Sky’s shimmer disappeared. Sky stood beside her for only a moment, before stumbling to the side, his eyes unfocused. He had a small kitchen knife in one hand and a bottle of tequila in another. There was something different about him. Sky looked tired—and not the kind when he hadn’t had enough sleep. He seemed mentally tired. And he looked… sad.
All Sophie could do was stare as Sky’s eyes widened when he saw that the Disciple she’d been fighting was standing almost next to him.
“Woah,” he groaned, and swung the bottle of tequila towards the Disciple’s head. Even in his dishevelled state, Sky was still able to attack with lightning speed. The Disciple had no time to react. The bottle shattered, sending the tequila and shards of glass everywhere. It was enough to knock the Disciple out cold.
Sophie was just fast enough to avoid the liquid from splashing all over her. She scowled back at Sky, who looked down at the Disciple and smiled. It was as if taking down the Disciple had completely taken his mind off of what had caused him to seem so down.
“Are you drunk?” Sophie demanded.
Sky raised his right hand and brought his thumb and tip of his index finger very close together. “Little bit.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Jacob called.
“Not kidding.” Sky hiccupped, then grinned. “I am very serious.”
Sophie turned away from Sky and swung her pipe at a Disciple coming right at them. “We can’t shimmer out with him. It’s too dangerous. It’s a miracle he even made it here in this state.”
“I knew it wasn’t a good idea to call him,” Jacob said over his shoulder.
“Shut up,” Sophie snapped. As if Jacob could have predicted Sky would show up here like this.
But right at that moment, a Disciple managed to slip past Jacob and raise his sword at Sophie. Before she could do anything, Sky darted forward with a speed only he could harness with his magic. A second later the Disciple fell to his knees, his throat having been cut open by Sky’s kitchen knife.
“Still makes me better than you,” Sky said. Though, he wasn’t very steady on his feet. He stumbled two steps to the side.
“You son of a bitch,” Jacob growled.
“Language!” Sky called back, and then giggled to himself.
Sophie gritted her teeth. Sky and Jacob didn’t like each other at the best of times. Now that Sky had no filter because of the alcohol, there was no knowing what was going to come out of his mouth. And they really didn’t have time for petty ego fights.
“Stay behind Jake. And don’t do anything stupid,” Sophie told Sky. She didn’t have time to see whether he’d listened to her. She had another three Disciples to deal with herself.
Sophie was glad that she’d chosen this narrow street to fight them. With the scaffolding on her left, only one Disciple could attack her at a time. It gave her plenty of opportunities to do some damage without worrying about getting attacked from another side. It even gave her the chance to snag a sword from one of the Disciple’s she’d knocked out, so that now she had a weapon that could kill and could kill quickly.
She didn’t know what was happening behind her. She knew Sky was still doing something, because of Jacob’s continued swearing and grunting. But they seemed to be staying alive, which was the most that she could hope for.
“They seem to not care about you, have you noticed?” came Sky’s voice behind her, unable to stop himself from taunting Jacob even as they fought for their lives. Sophie didn’t catch the growl that came from Jacob as a response.
“Here, let me help.”
“No!” Jake called.
“Sky, don’t!” Sophie called at the same time. She couldn’t see what was happening, but she didn’t think it was a good idea for Sky to face those Disciples in front of Jacob. It was better for him not to do anything in his uncoordinated state.
But there was nothing Sophie could do. There were still two Disciples in front of her, and these were smarter than the ones before. They were standing at a greater distance, trying to entice her to step forward and away from her strategically favourable position. But Sophie wasn’t that stupid. Though, she had an idea how she could appear stupid without having to put herself at more risk.
Slowly, she turned her head to look behind her. But, she wasn’t really looking at Jacob or Sky. She was glancing at the two Disciples before her, out of the corner of her eye. When they thought she was sufficiently distracted, they both charged at her.
Sophie made herself wait just long enough for the Disciples to think they’d be successful. Then suddenly, she dropped to her knees, the sword of the first Disciple swinging over her head, missing her by what seemed like miles. Sophie reached up and slashed her sword across the Disciple’s stomach. She ducked out of the way when blood spilt out of the wound.
Then there was only one in front of her. Confidence surged within Sophie as she jumped to her feet and engaged in combat. She swung and ducked, lunged forward and spun away. The battle made her feel alive. And as long as there were no sounds of defeat or pain from the boys behind her, Sophie could freely move and fight and focus on this one Disciple in front of her.
The woman was dead moments later.
When Sophie turned around, ready to help the boys, the sounds of battle subsided as well. It was as if the remaining Disciples knew they stood no chance once Sophie could join the boys. The moment she spun round to face them, the five remaining Disciples turned on their heels and ran out of the street.
Sophie sighed a breath of relief and hurried after them. Sky and Jacob were further away from her than she had expected. Sky was slumped against the side of a building, his eyes closed. Jacob stood beside him, visibly irritated. He dropped the sword he was holding – Jake had also managed to get hold of a proper weapon from a fallen Disciple – and turned towards her. Sophie scanned him quickly, and after finding no significant cuts or other wounds, she made her way towards Sky.
As she passed him, Jake whispered, “What was he doing, showing up drunk here. He could’ve got us all killed.”
“You don’t think I know that?” Sophie hissed. She didn’t need Jacob rubbing it in her face that the way Sky had appeared was unacceptable. But as she looked at the distribution of the dead Disciples throughout the street, Sophie could tell that they weren’t all killed by Jacob. Sky might have been drunk, but he’d managed to help them nonetheless.
Sophie stepped towards Sky and placed a hand on his shoulder. The Band on her wrist glowed golden, and through her magic she could feel the fatigue in her brother’s body. Though Sophie couldn’t heal exhaustion – only proper rest could – she still let her magic flow through him, easing the strain on his muscles and healing the minor cuts he’d suffered in the battle.
When she was finished, Sky opened his eyes; there was a different look in them now. The giggly drunk had vanished, though maybe that version of him had only appeared once he’d been immersed in the battle. And now that the battle was over, the reason for why he’d been drunk had returned to him. Whatever it was, Sophie knew it wasn’t good. Sky was very rarely anything but a happy drunk.
“What’s going on?” she asked him.
Sky thought for a moment. “They were trying to get to you.”
“That’s not what’s going on,” Sophie replied, knowing that he was trying to change subject.
“It’s true, though,” Sky insisted. He swayed on his feet, and Sophie kept her hand on his shoulder to help steady him. “They weren’t… trying to kill him. Only get past him. They were here to get you. To kill you.”
Sophie took a moment to consider this. It wasn’t so surprising. Jacob was merely an Affinite. If she would ever say that out loud, he would find it extremely insulting. But it was true. Killing an Aster was one of the greatest achievements a Disciple could attain. It wasn’t so strange that the Disciples had less interest in Jacob and more in her. Still, the knowledge that they’d attacked her in her home town didn’t sit well with Sophie.
“Where did you come from?” Sophie asked, forcing Sky to tell her what had happened for him to turn up sad and sullen, desolate even.
Sky cast his eyes down. Sophie followed his gaze and saw that he was fiddling with the leather bracelet around his wrist. Piper’s bracelet.
“I came from her restaurant,” he started. Sophie stayed quiet as Sky breathed heavily for a few moments before continuing. “She’s gone.”
“What do you mean, she’s gone?”
“She’s off trying to find me.” Sky sighed and closed his eyes. “She’s never going to find me. And I have no way of finding her.”
Sophie’s heart ached for her brother. But before she could say anything, Jacob cleared his throat behind her. Sophie turned to face him, but kept her hand on Sky’s shoulder.
“We should inform the Council,” Jake said.
“Right, of course,” Sophie replied, trying to collect the jumble that were all the thoughts in her mind. “I’ll just—uhm…”
“I’ll do it,” Jake said. He eyed Sky behind her. “You should go and… tend to him.”
Sophie resented the tone with which he spoke about her brother. There were too many things Jacob didn’t know about Sky, who was much more than just the arrogant Aster he portrayed to the world. But Jacob was never really open for a conversation about her brother, and Sky would never let her tell Jacob too much about his past anyway. It left her suspended in between the two boys often, and right now it was getting on her nerves more than it had done in the past.
“Are you sure?” Sophie asked.
“Yeah, I’ll be fine. I’ll stay here and wait for them to arrive and clean this up,” Jacob told her. “Just go.”
Sophie offered him a tentative smile. She reached out her other hand and squeezed his. But Jacob didn’t give her much more than a nod. His ego was obviously bruised. He probably felt that by calling Sky, she’d inadvertently said she didn’t think he was a good enough soldier to fight off these Disciples.
Sophie sighed and turned back to her brother. She didn’t have the time or the energy to tell Jake that he was wrong. Especially since he probably wouldn’t believe her anyway.
She turned back to Sky, who offered her the kitchen knife. She wiped the blood off of the blade before pricking the tip of Sky’s finger with it. A small drop of blood appeared on his skin, and Sophie wiped it away with her finger. She brought the blood that was now on her finger to her lips and swallowed it. In a low voice she whispered the spell to harness Sky’s magic, and used it to shimmer the two of them out of the quiet side street, away from Jacob, and to the living room of her mother’s townhouse.