Chapter Seven: A Final Attack
Even from earth, I can feel his pain. Chris is mourning the death of his friend below us. We can all feel it. A boy to my left whimpers, recalling the devastation of us all. Hush, I warn him gently. They will see.
It is my unspoken job to teach the little ones, as the oldest of the lighters. Ever since Frank, a boy older than I, was killed by the elders, I have attempted to keep them out of harm's way, all the while hoping that our absences from earth would be noticed.
There was not any luck. My parents were killed shortly after my capture; this I know from the ability to reach out that far. The other lighters' parents were either powerless or ignorant. The quake that caused the embassy to fall killed our dear friend Sammy, but at last gave us a chance that has never before been offered: freedom. We can only hope that Chris will find a way.
I believe in him. Everyone here does. He is the only one powerful enough to shake off the mask, to oppose the elders and help us to escape. Now we have a chance.
He is coming! I can sense him, cries the excited thoughts of a smaller lighter. We can return to our homes!
Do not count your chickens, I remind him patiently. Yes, Chris is coming. I, too, can feel him orbing through the vast atmosphere. He is coming full of pain and anger beyond what any of us have ever felt in a single being before.
One of the elders cracks a whip threateningly, and I can feel him tense behind me. We are not the only ones that feel his force approaching. I carefully open one of my eyes in a small slit in time to see the blue orbs light up the air surrounding us. He forms in the middle of the circle.
If it was not for his brown hair and small frame, he would not be recognizable. His eyes are a fiery color of green, piercing the elders' stares with a kind of rage I have never thought capable of such a little child. They are streaked heavily with tears of anguish, mourning the loss of our comrade. His tiny fists are balled at his sides, quaking with fury and ready to leap towards any attacker.
The whip comes down on him and we all brace ourselves for his punishment.
His hand is up in half of a second, blocking the blow. He holds end of the whip in his hand, glares menacingly at the elder and in a quick jerk of his arm he steals the whip from the elder's grasp and hits him in return.
The elder cries out and stumbles back, clutching the shoulder that made impact.
"How does it feel?" Chris hisses. "It is not fun, is it, now?"
"Stop this at once!" the elder booms. We wince at his anger towards Chris as he calls upon the other elders. "You will be greatly punished for your rash action!"
"What do you intend to do to me? Kill me?" His eyes narrow in accusation as the elder steps back out of guilt. "I know what you did to the older boy. You killed him! He is dead. And now Sammy is dead. Who is responsible for this?" His voice drops to a dead whisper when he finally bursts, "You. You and the elders are responsible for all of this."
The four other elders that run the embassy begin to arrive. At once, two grab Chris' arms, restraining him. He jerks his arms back once more, sending the two of them hurtling forward.
"Do not touch me," he screams. "You no longer have control over us."
"Restrain him!" the original elder shrieks. "You all," he says, indicating us. "Restrain the boy or you'll all be punished!"
Stand your ground, I order. We all sit as we were before in meditation, our eyes closed while we listen to the scene unfolding before us.
"There is nobody left to take your orders," Chris yells, confidence building with our support. "Leave this place. Set us free."
"Never," one of the elders spit out.
"Then pay for what you have done." He rounds on the speaker, whipping her as well. The elder, similar to the previous one, cries out and jumps back from him.
"No longer will you threaten us. We are in control."
"We're giving you one last chance," says one of them shakily. "Return to your place in the circle and resume your activities. Or we just might have to resort to desperate measures," he adds icily.
"I will never give up."
One of the elders from behind Chris protrudes an athame from the depths of his heavy white robes. Chris, I cry out. Behind you!
He whips around in time for his gaze to penetrate the elder's own. The elders freezes in place, stunned, and the knife falls harmlessly to the ground. Chris leaps up away from the blade in panic, his eyes still watery from his loss. Suddenly he turns quite pale, eyes closed in concentration.
A great blue bubble of electricity begins to form around him. I smile the first smile I have ever had the pleasure of letting free for the first time in nine years, since I arrived at three years old.
It is a smile worth waiting for.
"What do you think you're doing?" an elder screams at me. "You can't have powers! They're bound!"
I can feel myself shaking—no, the ground beneath me is shaking. I'm causing a great quake in the earth as the force field builds, pushing the elders back. Slowly, with every moment of agonizing concentration, the bubble grows larger, protecting us and destroying everything else in its path.
This is it. The embassy is falling, once and for all. And I, the silent boy with the intent to keep everything hidden in order to stay out of trouble, am the one causing it. This must be some kind of a dream.
A flash of pain in my head quickly reminds me that I am very much awake and must concentrate further before the bubble grows weak.
You can do this! Do not give up! Annabelle cheers. I can feel them all around me, the other lighters, as quiet as stones and yet helping the power to grow.
The elders are using their own force fields to deflect mine. I feel myself being pushed back by its power. No, I will not be pushed around. I refuse to be pushed around any longer! With another angry surge, my bubble creeps forward several feet, knocking them all back after taking them by surprise.
"Evacuate," an elder finally commands to the others. They orb out simultaneously, leaving the bubble to expand to its greatest lengths. A great flash of blue light erupts through out the embassy's gates, obliterating the place forever.
"It's over," I gasp, shaking madly. I stare down at my quaking palms and see their blurry outline as I swagger down. "It's finally over…" I fall to my knees in exhaustion, satisfied with the completion of my task.
It seems like this emergency meeting of the elders is lasting practically forever. This is absurd! Okay, we all know the embassy fell. We all saw it. It's obviously not stopping them with continuing the lighters' training, is it? That's why we're hiding Chris, isn't it? So they can't bring him back like they did with the other kids.
"Leo," Ariel whispers out of the corner of her mouth when we finally have a spare moment. "The child. Have you made any progress?"
"Child?" I ask.
"The lighter," she reminds me, eyes growing wide in alarm.
"Oh, right." I guess it's hard to think of him as a child, really. "Phoebe's trying to get through to him. It's a little challenging," I admit. "I feel really bad for him."
She stares heavily into my eyes for a moment, their blue pools searching mine as if looking for a sign. She finally sighs, flickering her eyes to the clouded floor. "You haven't seen it, have you?"
"Seen what?" I ask, frowning.
"You haven't seen the truth, Leo," she repeats, shaking her head sadly. "Why do you think I chose you to take the boy, Leo? Why?"
I can't quite think of what to say, taken aback by the question. "I—I don't know," I stutter. "Why did you choose me?"
She shakes her head again. "I thought you might see. The lighter down there isn't just a boy from earth. His name isn't a coincidence, Leo." Her eyes cloud over in remorse. "When the boy was kidnapped as a baby, I tried everything I could to allow him to return, Leo. Everything I could. But it wasn't enough; they kept him. I named him, Leo, hoping that someday, when the wrongs were righted, he would be able to return to his home. I named him Chris. I named him for you."
"I don't understand," I say shakily. "Are you saying that…?"
"The boy is your son, Leo."
I open my mouth to argue but find that there's nothing to say. Slowly, the images build up in my mind. It's like finding the missing piece to a puzzle: suddenly everything fit. Everything made sense.
A great lump of guilt formed in my throat and instead of waiting for the meeting to recollect, I orb out to the manor.
When I arrive in the attic, I realize soon enough that I'm not the only one that this heavy secret has been revealed to.
"Leo, you're here," Phoebe cries. "Where the hell were you? There's something we have to tell you…" There are tears welling up in her eyes, replacing ones that have already leaked.
"Not right now," I plead. "Where's Chris?"
"Gone! He's gone, Leo!" Piper shrieks hysterically, sobbing like a maniac in a chair. "He's ours! He's our baby, Leo! Our poor little boy was kidnapped by elders and forced to be a lighter!"
"I know," I say soothingly, sitting beside her. "I know, Piper." That's when I realize that I'm crying as well. I turn to Phoebe. "What do you mean, gone? Where is he?" I demand frantically.
Piper hiccups. "His little friend that he looked after Up There was killed in the fall," she explains between little cries. "They couldn't find his body. He was communicating with the other lighters Up There…"
"He just cracked, Leo, the poor thing was sobbing," Phoebe continues. "And then he just orbed away. We haven't been able to reach Paige up in Magic School, and we think he could hurt himself. We have no idea where he is! You've got to do something!"
"Calm down, it'll be fine," I assure them firmly. I suppose that I'm the one that needs to hear those words the most, though. How can everything be fine? I'm finally given a second chance to fix what's been broken for seven years, and I let it fly out the window. "Does…does Chris know? About being our son?"
Phoebe's eyes turn dark. "He's known. He knew when you accused him of attacking Wyatt and he knew when Piper called him a burden at the dinner table."
Stab, stab. The words are like sharp knives to both of us. I leap to my feet and suddenly Chris' whereabouts are clearer than ever in my mind. I see clouds…children sitting in a circle, surrounded by a great dome of blue energy…elders orbing away…
"The embassy," I whisper. "He's attacking the embassy."
"Orb!" Phoebe commands, taking my hand. Piper grabs the other and we orb Up There.
All around us is destruction and utter silence. Even what remained of the fallen buildings and debris is gone, wiped out clean. In the midst of clouds is a small group of children, huddling around something.
Or someone. My stomach does a back flip as the sickening knowledge enters my veins.
The children tense at our presences.
"It is okay," an older one, a girl, assures them. "They are good." She approaches us, giving us a small smile. "Chris has saved us. We are free."
"Chris," I persist. "Where is Chris?"
"He will be fine, I am sure," she says, indicating the huddle of children. Chris lay in the middle of them, a smile spread on his pale, exhausted face. "We will return to earth. I leave him in your care," she says dutifully, allowing us to pass through the mob of children.
I lift the boy up in my arms and his eyes open at the shift. "They're gone," he tells me. "It's over. It's over, right?" he asks.
"Yes," I say, tears in my eyes. It took seven years, but staring at this boy, I know that nothing will ever tear our family apart. Piper smiles at me a few feet away and I smile back, the happy truth universal. "It's over. You're coming home with us, son."
We didn't know that our journey had only just begun.
THE END....Thanks for all the wonderful reviews, guys! You're all so awesome!